Fiio just launched in October the X1 portable high-resolution lossless music player. This is the latest addition to their line of digital audio players, after the mid-range X3 and flagship X5 models. The X1 offers uncompromising audio quality with really impressive specifications. It’s price, however, is the icing on top of the cake. The X1 isn’t perfect, but you could not ask more from a US$99 music player.
The X1’s impressive specifications start from the 192kHz 24-bit PCM5142 DAC from Texas Instruments, and ISL28291 amplifier from Intersil. It supports one configurable headphone output or line output, the latter allowing you to pair the X1 with other dedicated headphone amplifiers.
Five lossless music formats are supported by the X1: APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, and ALAC. You can get right in to enjoy your favourite high-resolution high-quality music without the chore of format conversion. The X1 also supports lossy compression audio formats like MP3, AAC, OGG Vorbis.
The X1 is really quite well built, made out of light durable aluminium alloys that give it a very solid feel in your hand, yet remaining lightweight and relatively portable. There are a couple of buttons, a scroll wheel reminiscent of iPods, and a small colour TFT LCD display.
The X1 is available in silver and gold colours, and come packaged in a simple cardboard box just about the size of a stack of three CD cases. I have the silver coloured X1.
Fiio has already adorned the X1 with a custom black silicon cover. It has all the right holes and indentations, and should provide good protection against accidental drops. There’s also a screen protector already applied, as you can see in the photo below. You’ll only need to remove the outside mask from the screen protector. It’s very thoughtful of Fiio. Two additional screen protectors are included in the packaging (a total a three, including the one already applied).
It’s a pity, though, that the Fiio X1 is so pretty that it should be hidden in a silicon case. I promptly removed the silicon cover to reveal the beautiful X1. The shiny aluminium glistens beautifully. The scroll wheel does give it a bit of a retro look. Fortunately, the buttons are placed in a somewhat meaningful orientation, unlike the slanted lopsided design in the X3. The X1’s body measures 97mm x 57mm x 14mm, and weighs 106 g.
The face of the X1 has a 2″ colour TFT LCD display with 320×240 resolution. The display is not great at all. The resolution is low, the colours are washed out, and overall the display isn’t easy to read. The display is not touchscreen either. But you’d forgive Fiio at the price the X1 sells for.
The four finely textured buttons around the scroll wheel are very nice. They click firmly, giving a very satisfying tactile feedback when the click registers. The centre of the scroll wheel is also a button. I’m not terribly fond of the scroll wheel. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference. The scroll wheel has a rubbery texture, thus giving good traction for your fingers to rotate it. There is a small amount of side-to-side give to the scroll wheel.
Moving along to the sides of the X1, you’ll find the power button and two volume buttons on the left. The power button is flush with the surface, while the volume buttons protrude a little. The + and – are nicely etched into the volume buttons.
On the X1’s bottom, you’ll find the microUSB port. This port serves to charge the X1, as well as providing a USB mass storage connection to the micro SD card for transferring your music files. Unfortunately, you can’t use the X1 as a USB DAC, i.e., as an external sound card to your computer.
On the right side, near the bottom, there is the micro SD slot. The X1 supports microSD capacities up to 128GB. Only FAT formatted cards are supported. There is no door or other form of dust protection for this slot.
Finally, at the top, you’ll find the 3.5mm audio output jack. This output can serve as both headphone output and line output, selected through the X1’s menu. That’s right, if you didn’t like the X1’s amplifier, and only want to use it for the DAC capabilities, you can easily chain it into a dedicated headphone amplifier.
The X1 packs a 1700 mAh battery that is rated to last at least 12 hours and charges in under 4 hours. In the box, Fiio includes a USB to microUSB cable.
The X1’s software is simple and reasonably intuitive to use. It is very responsive too, which I can’t say enough how important that is. You can browse music by album, artist, genre, or folder structure stored in the microSD card. You can favourite tracks and browse your favourite list too. Notably missing, however, is support for .m3u playlists, or any playlists at all. The Fiio X5 originally did not come with playlist support, but the feature was later added through a firmware update. I hope Fiio will add playlist support in a future X1 firmware update too.
There are a couple of preset equaliser settings in the X1, or you can create a custom setting. It’s not as comprehensive as the Cowon J3 that I come from. It doesn’t matter to me, since I usually like to leave the sound neutral. One useful feature with the X1 is the ability to cap the maximum volume level so you don’t accidentally blow your eardrums.
Let’s talk about sound quality now. Sound quality is difficult to talk about, because one cannot ignore the price point of the gadget we’re talking about. One also has to consider the target audience. What sounds like nirvana to a casual music listener can still be a disappointment to an audiophile.
I consider myself a step above the casual music listener. Just so you know, I tested the X1 with a JH16 CIEM. My first impressions of the X1 is that it sounds really great. It had good overall clarity, and produced plenty of details throughout the frequency range. It presented a wide soundstage, which seems to make up for the lack thereof in the JH16. I’d describe the X1’s sound as neutral.
The X1 will have no trouble driving most casual headphones. For the most demanding users, you can configure the 3.5mm audio jack into a line output, then pair the X1 up with a dedicated headphone amplifier. This flexibility to disable the built-in amplifier will prove to be very useful for some audiophile users.
I want to mention some other goodies included in the X1 package. It was very nice of Fiio to provide three sets of screen protectors in total, but on top of that, they’ve also included three sets of stickers which you can use as a layer of protection for the X1 instead of putting on the silicon case. I think the carbon fibre look and the wood panel look are pretty nice.
The Fiio X1 retails at US$99 online, or you can find it retailing in Singapore at S$159. This is a really awesome price, considering in particular both the sound quality and build quality of the X1. It’s not perfect. I’m disappointed with the lack of .m3u playlist support. This may not matter to some people, depending on their listening style. The display is not great either, but then again, how much can you expect from a player at this price?
The Fiio X1 is an awesome digital audio player with great sound quality at a very low price.
- Superb sound quality
- Support for many lossless sound formats, and other lossy formats
- Great build quality
- Configurable headphone output or line output jack
- No playlist support
- Inferior display
Update 5 Nov 2014: True enough, Fiio has update their firmware to version 1.1, with support for .m3u playlist support.