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Noel Keywood says the FiiO X1 could be just what you need for high-resolution portable music on-the-go.
The little X1 high resolution digital audio player is small in size and small in price – just £90 or so. Apart from a gaggle of super-slim portable players that I’ve yet to be impressed by sonically, the X1 is one of the smallest high resolution portable digital audio players you’ll find today. It’ll even fit a shirt pocket.
I was taken aback by the price of the X1, doubting that any hi-res digital player could come in at £100 or less, but FiiO have done it. Better, the X1 isn’t short of ability as a result; in fact, it is delightfully easy to use simply because complexity has been removed. All the same, you get a decent modern (2012) digital convertor chip inside, a PCM 5142 from Burr Brown, a division of Texas Instruments. For this part alone Texas claim a high 112dB dynamic range – much better than CD.
In the X1 this DAC drives a downstream amplifier, the Intersil ISL28291 that, I presume, drives the headphone output; it is quoted as having a very low output impedance of 0.2 Ohms, something many enthusiasts consider of great importance, although I suspect unseen factors such as battery and d.c. convertor behaviour have more impact on sound quality.
The microSD slot on the side accepts cards of up to 128GB - enough for
some 500 high-resolution tracks.
The X1 has just one output socket on its top face, the usual 3.5mm stereo jack. There’s no digital output, nor separate line output or digital input; you can however switch the headphone output to line, defeating the volume control. This gives slightly better quality and a signal that can be fed straight into the Line input (i.e. Tuner, Aux, etc) of any hi-fi amplifier, using a 3.5mm jack-to-phono-plug adaptor lead. Doing this turns the X1 into a high-quality digital source; it effectively acts as a CD player, but with better quality when playing hi-res files. It will play whilst hooked up to an external USB supply, preserving battery life.
Whilst the X1 may lack luxuries such as high-resolution touch screen and digital output, it is still an impressive package. The case is of shiny anodised aluminium, with a black rotary wheel. At the centre of this lies a large button: just press it to select whatever track has been highlighted when spinning the wheel, or hold it to change volume. Four small silver buttons spaced equidistant around the wheel provide forward and back track skip, Return function and an alternative menu set. Volume can be adjusted using external buttons, as well as the spin wheel.
There’s no internal memory, but a single slot accepts one microSD card up to 128GB – massive capacity. As a hi-res track typically pans out at 0.2GB or so, 500 such tracks could be accommodated with room to spare on one card.
Weighing just 106gms the X1 is a flyweight player. It measures 58mm wide, 97mm high and 14mm thick, fitting the palm of the hand easily. The lower face carries a micro-USB socket for charging and/or file loading. Run from a charger it will play, but run from a computer it goes into file download mode, but can be switched back to charge alone.
Both Mac and PC see the X1 as a mass storage device, like a memory key, so there are no interface problems.
The on-board Li-polymer battery has 1700 mAh capacity and supports around 10 hours of play, but this depends very much on screen usage as always. A tiny LED warns of charge (red), full charge (green) and play (blue), and there is a coloured battery condition icon in the display.
A settings screen allows for easy control of all the FiiO's various functions.
The display is small but easy to read with bright text.
The small coloured display panel shows track listing and data, such as file encoding and spec. as well as name, artist etc. I found it all straightforward and easy to use; FiiO have plenty of experience here. The screen, although small, is clear and bright, text looking pin sharp rather than jagged. The auto shut-off modes can be defeated too, allowing manual control – which I also found easier to cope with.
What files will the X1 play? Well, just about all of them except DSD. Most importantly, it plays WAV and FLAC up to 24/192. For Apple people it plays ALAC and M4a, a version of AAC, which itself is a cousin of MP3 (all supported) and earlier MP2 (horrid), all from Fraunhofer Institute of Germany and the redoubtable Karl Heinz Brandenburg. Then there’s OGG and APE (don’t ask).
I just threw a melange of files in and the X1 played them all, with no unsupported format messages or stealthy track skipping, as sometimes happens. And I must not forget to mention Windows Media Audio of course, or WMA.
Interesting to hear The Ramones singing 'Blitzkreig Bop' on a hi-res player like this, because in hi-res form (24bit, 44.1kHz) I got to hear just how well composed they really were in the studio, as legend had it because of Tommy Ramone’s production standards and technical ability. The X1 made a great job of conveying this, sounding whistle clean and with rock steady soundstaging, Joey Ramone’s vocals coming in at me from left and right, straight from the mic it seemed. Even the rapid fire drumming of Tommy, crucial to this track – and most of their tracks! – was well supported by the X1, having plenty of punch through Philips Fidelio X1 headphones, with volume occasionally reaching 80 of 100 max, over short periods.
With quieter Rock (cough!) the X1 was even more in its element, Marta Gomez sounding full and clear centre stage whilst wooden blocks beat out an accompaniment over at left and accordion sounded full bodied, timbrally rich and lively at full right.
Tchaikovsky’s 'Waltz of the Flowers', played by the Bruckner Orchestra, Linz (24/96 FLAC), sounded silky smooth; this player having an almost creamy quality about it, where Astell&Kerns are sharper chiselled and perhaps a bit more mechanical. The X1 is a super-smoothy, gentle yet clear, open and capable. I was more than aware of listening to good hi-res digital by the sheer ease of the experience across a wide range of material, from Rock to Classical.
The X1 is a delightful little player. It comes over as easy and sweet – to use and in its sound. Yet it is dynamically lively and images sound full-bodied. Small, light and unintrusive this is a budget high-resolution audio player that delivers a great sound to even the most insensitive high quality headphones – amazing for the price.
FiiO X1 £99
OUTSTANDING - amongst the best
VALUE - keenly priced
A superb high-resolution player at a bargain price. You’d have to spend a lot more to get significantly better.
- smooth sound
- 24bit/192kHz capable
- build quality
- easy to operate
- no digital output