1000+ Head-Fier
Xuelin Clear - Tiny DAP with big sound
Pros: Superb sound in a small form factor for relatively low cost
Cons: Quirky non-Android interface
One of the hobby's great ironies is how many of us spent years, even decades assembling vast music collections... that now gather dust while we use streaming platforms instead.

This year I became a convert of Apple Music and have hardly touched my FLAC/DSD albums since. So weeks ago when I was offered a free Xuelin Clear in exchange for a review I wondered if it'd be worth it.

No android?
No streaming??
No touchscreen?!?

I try to keep an open mind but it didn't seem promising. Then the Clear arrived, so I grudgingly took it out of the box, plugged in some IEMs and began to listen...

Suddenly my perspective changed.



The USD $549 Xuelin Clear arrives in a large, high quality cardboard box that belies its' modest price.

Inside is a fairly spartan instruction manual in English & Chinese, a USB-A > USB-C cable & wall plug for charging, and a few warranty cards.

The inclusion of a leather case & screen protector would've been welcome additions, but I can understand they were probably omitted to keep costs down.

Tech Specs & Battery Life​


Xuelin Clear utilises a pair of ES9038Q DACs & twin OP1622's op-amps to generate 5.2V from its' 4.4mm balanced jack, and 2.6V of 3.5mm output. USB-C charging & Micro-SD cards up to 2TB are supported, with 64 or 128GB of built-in storage depending on the option you choose.

Clear supports file formats such as FLAC up to 192kHz, WAV to 192kHz, MP3 to 48kHz and DSD 2.8MHz but sadly no higher DSD resolutions.

Battery life is quoted as 8 hours but you may get a little less depending on how much you use the screen, though the 3100mAh internal battery charges quickly.



At a mere 157 grams, with very small 10 x 6 x 1.6 cm dimensions the Clear is tiny & extremely lightweight by modern DAP standards.

This isn't quite micro-player territory but isn't far off. In my recent Astell & Kern SR35 Review I spoke of the pleasurable experience of using a smaller player that glides in & out of a pocket, particularly when you're out & about. There really is nothing like it, and I dearly love smaller players for this reason.

The ballooning of modern DAP weights & form-factors in recent years (with screens up to 6 inches!) has conditioned us to become accustomed to bulkier, clunkier devices that deliver horsepower & features we don't end up using much of the time. Going back to simpler, smaller gadgets feels liberating and may leave us wondering if we really do need to lug those expensive bricks around.


The magnesium alloy case has somewhat angular edges in the hand but they're rounded off enough to not be uncomfortable, and the level of machining is such it feels like you're holding a premium device.

The volume wheel clicks smoothly & precisely and the round aluminium buttons are easy to locate "blind" with the device in a pocket. I certainly have no build quality issues with the Clear, and for this price think you'd have to be pretty fussy to fault its' construction.

Interface & Usability​


If I told you USD $549 is all you need to spend on a DAP that sounds superb & weighs just 157 grams, you'd probably ask "what's the catch?"

The catch is this is a simple device with a bare bones approach to prioritise sound quality - there's no Android here which means no streaming, nor is there a fancy touchscreen. Instead the interface is extremely utilitarian & spartan, and is controlled through the player's side buttons & volume wheel.

To minimise battery consumption the display uses four tiny OLED screens - top left is a spectrum analyser, below that shows the current bitrate, bottom right is the time position in the current track & total number of tracks, and top right is the main display where you control the player.


The control window in the upper right is small & can only fit a limited amount of information, which makes scrolling through lists of albums & tracks less enjoyable because only 3 can be visible at a time.

The narrow width of the window also means only some of each album or track name is visible - they do automatically scroll horizontally to display the full name, but it's a compromise. The control window also displays volume level & battery life (represented by 1-4 bars) at all times.

FWD & BCK buttons or the volume wheel are used to scroll, while PLAY button makes selections and the BACK button does what it says. Another downside is Clear's modest CPU runs at 400MHz so although scrolling through albums & tracks is very fluid, loading a song after you hit play can take several seconds.

By stark contrast omitting Android's bloat means Clear boots up in a mere three seconds, whereas Android DAPs can take up to a minute or more. The player's fifth button turns the screen on or off, which feels redundant given it turns off automatically if no buttons are pressed for awhile, and back on the moment any of other buttons are tapped. Pity that button isn't programmable.

For such a simple player there's a few goodies in the Settings menu - a Line Out option (sadly it only seems to apply to the 3.5mm jack), four built-in DAC filters which I personally can't hear any difference between, adjustable screen brightness and auto screen-off & power-off durations, even the ability to format the inserted Micro-SD card.


Another quirk is playback won't automatically pause when the earphone plug is removed, which makes A/Bing interesting but otherwise hasn't affected me. Lastly, gapless playback is not supported as there is a short pause between tracks.

It's a fairly fluid system once you overcome the initial learning curve, and given the player's weight & dimensions is one I'm willing to excuse in no small part thanks to how terrific Clear sounds. Having said all that, being able operating the player with just one hand is a refreshing change from larger, heavier DAPs where two can be required just to hold them without spraining a wrist.

Sound Performance​


This little player has really shocked me with how good it sounds.

At just 157 grams with a pair of ESS DACs my expectations were low, if anything I was mentally prepared for something that might sound terrible - boy was I wrong!

There's an organic quality to the Clear's playback I don't quite get from any of the recent Android DAPs I've tried. It could best be described as an extra dose of PRAT (Pace, Rhythm And Timing) with a feeling of directness that leaves Android alternatives sounding slightly more artificial by comparison.

It's the polar opposite of what I expected. ESS DACs are famous for the dreaded "Sabre glare" which can impart a metallic sheen on the presentation, and I experienced that first hand with the DX240.

I'm not sure how Xuelin managed to overcome it but thankfully Clear is free of such artefacts to my ears, if anything it sounds more natural than my Android players - could Android itself be adding extra jitter which degrades playback? I don't know enough to answer that, but it would be my guess.


The first thing you notice listening to the Xuelin Clear is the bass. It's seriously impressive.

You'd think a diminutive player might be wimpy in this area but instead it delivers powerful, elevated levels of bass without sounding bloated. This gives the sound a real sense of gravitas with impressive note weight & drive.

Moving to the midrange Clear boasts a warm tonality with enough lower midrange emphasis to make music sound satisfyingly bodied & full. I wouldn't say it strays too far from neutral to impede technical performance, though it's possible a leaner sound would create a slightly higher perception of detail at the cost of the Clear's superb tonality.

Treble is the one area where Clear sacrifices extra presence to maintain that tonality and lower the potential of fatigue, and most Android DAPs I've tried definitely possess more treble sheen. Although even classical string instruments come through cleanly & distinctly on the Clear, that final bit of upper treble tizz is slightly muted. Nor do I think treble is rendered with quite the same delicacy as it is on more expensive Android players, though the difference is minor.

Technical Performance​


Clear boasts a respectably wide soundstage for such a tiny player. Stage depth is less impressive, better than most similarly-sized players yet still below that of many larger DAPs and I would nominate stage depth as one of Clear's sonic shortcomings.

Similarly resolution is acceptable, but doesn't quite deliver the same effortless rendition of tiny nuances as some of its' Android rivals, and Clear's more rolled-off treble may be partly responsible. By stark contrast Clear is hugely dynamic, with dynamic swings that really pop out and contribute massively to the player's palpable sense of groove.

Imaging & background blackness are similarly okay without being anything spectacular. Listening to the Clear I'm usually too busy getting caught up in the music itself to focus on technical performance, and it's mostly when critically A/Bing against Android players that I notice those deficiencies.

Source Comparisons​


Astell & Kern SR35 (USD $799)


For this comparison the SR35 is in hi-gain mode with quad DACs enabled. I immediately notice the SR35 is a step down in most sonic departments, with bass that's not as impactful or deep and is much less satisfying. Overall note weight is also lower, with a tonality that isn't as warm or full as the Clear.

The SR35 does has more treble presence, but that doesn't seem to translate into a greater level of detail or superior technical performance, in fact the SR35's soundstage is definitely shallower and maybe even slightly narrower than Clear's although there's little difference in width.


The Clear boasts superior dynamics and makes instruments sound larger. The SR35 also sounds more digital, with music that doesn't flow quite as well. You'd have a far easier time guessing the SR35's diminutive size blindfolded by listening to it to it than you would the Clear which sounds like a much larger device, even though it's almost 30 grams lighter than the SR35 & significantly cheaper.

With full streaming and (an admittedly very small) touchscreen the SR35 is a much easier device to use, and I find the difference in weight & bulk between it and Clear to be fairly negligible. However sonically I'm really struggling to pick out any aspect of the SR35's presentation I prefer over the Clear.

Hiby R6 Pro II (USD $749)


Run in Hi-gain, class AB mode I'm surprised that the R6P2's bass is much weaker & less impactful than the Clear which delivers a much more satisfying bass performance. The Clear is also significantly warmer with more lower midrange emphasis, and delivers a smoother more analogue tonality without giving me the impression important details are being obscured.

The R6P2 is quite a bit brighter though, and presents a deeper soundstage in which instruments feel larger with a background that's slightly blacker. However note weight is better on Clear, as are dynamics to a small extent which is surprising because I rate dynamics as one of the R6P2's great strengths.


The R6P2 is definitely resolving more information, with the trailing off of notes easier to pickup and instruments being a tiny bit more clearly delineated in space. However I do find the R6P2's extra treble energy potentially fatiguing, and prefer Clear's tonality which feels more natural.

Weighing 285 grams, at close to twice the size & weight of Clear the R6P2 isn't a device I'd want to carry around, and the lack of a volume wheel isn't something I'm crazy about. Its' huge touchscreen & fast CPU render it a pleasure to use though, almost making it feel like a device built for a different purpose.

Cayin N8ii (USD $3499)


In high gain, P+ mode the N8ii is a player I've always felt has some of the deepest sub bass of any DAP on the market, yet to my surprise both players are very close in bass output with Clear perhaps demonstrating a tiny bit more bass rumble.

Then N8ii is significantly brighter, though I'm not sure merely the extra treble is responsible for the N8ii resolving significantly higher levels of detail, with tiny inflections on notes much more apparent in its' vastly deeper stage that feels significantly more three-dimensional.


Multiple instruments are delineated more distinctly in complex tracks on the N8ii, perhaps thanks to its' beefier built-in amplifier, with imaging being sharper & the presentation more alive with tiny nuances.

In direct A/B comparisons the Clear sounds a bit mushier and more sluggish, though its' warmer tonality allows me to groove to the music a bit more it's clearly a major step down sonically from the N8ii as reflected by the enormous differences in price & weight, with the N8ii coming in at a chunky 442 grams.



I wasn't sure what to expect with the Xuelin Clear, in fact I wasn't really expecting much at all.

Would it be worth bothering with a player that lacks streaming or a touchscreen? To my total surprise the answer is a resounding yes!

It's difficult to put into words why the Xuelin sounds so impressive for such a tiny gadget. Awesome bass is part of it, but that's not the full story. There's a calmness to Clear's presentation that lets me relax when I listen, whereas something about the sound of delta-sigma Android players puts me on edge.

Ironically, relaxed is the last word I'd use to describe the Clear's sound. No, it's far too toe-tapping for that. There's a naturalness however which was the last thing expected from ESS DACs - I still have no idea how Xuelin pulled that off.

The elephant in the room is Clear's interface and non-Android quirks, is it worth the trouble or would a small Android DAP be a better choice? My Astell & Kern SR35 has been gathering dust since Clear arrived which probably tells you something, but you'll need to find your own answer.

I've changed my mind about non-Android players, and will pay a lot more attention to them in future.
received this dap , i cannot express the maximum frustration i experience , basically ive spent hours trying to get this going with 4 different sd cards from a macbook, formatting, trying everything i know and at best it will load some random tracks with tracks missing and the ususall mac crap files in between, it wouldn't load the internal memory,128gb as Penon didnt have the 64 left, i cannot even see or use it, when it played, what i heard was good but nothing special so definitely not worth all the pain!
On a further little listen i have to say that i am liking what i hear and would like to know how to deal with the pita file situation 😏
Yan Kot
Sd Card only fat32
Yes, this is unfortunately an ancient format, and most likely now it is formatted only through special programs ...
For some reason I do not read CUE files, although support is declared
Great review! How you describe the sound characteristics feels pretty similiar to my Xuelin H6. Seems like that might be Xuelin's house sound. It's a very captivating sound. What's not captivating is that firmware. It looks very similiar with H6 firmware, expect with two screens more. Looks like those extra screens don't even show any new information. Seems pointless having two screens just to show codec and file properties.
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