Fiio’s X7ii is a Jack-of-all-trades. Want something that can handle high-resolution audio and also streaming services? Check. What about streaming applications and digital inputs? Check. It seems the X7ii can do it all.
A product that spreads itself too thin risks making compromises to its overall quality, though, and while the X7ii has an impressive array of features and is sturdily built, it’s not quite as convincing as an expensive portable player should be.
The main quality of build that makes the X7ii stand out is it looks and feels like a smartphone on steroids.
It’s got nice weight to it, a line-out connection so you can hook it to your hi-fi, twin jacks for 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced headphones, and a particularly satisfying clickwheel volume control.
The housing could be a little more refined, and some of the joints aren’t as smooth as they could be. Strangely, it’s better when used in the left hand, as the buttons and volume wheel are on that side.
Southpaws will be happy, but for right-handed people it’s more inconvenient than most.
The software powering it is Android-based, giving you access to every app on Google’s Play Store – including Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Apple and Amazon Music – through the X7ii’s dual band wi-fi.
This means you get automatic lyric and album artwork detection, downloaded when the player’s connected to the internet, which is a nice touch too.
On the subject of wireless connectivity, the X7ii also has aptX Bluetooth 4.1 support – so you can stream ‘CD-like’ audio (16bit/44.1kHz, with some compression) to your wireless speakers and headphones.
But when it comes to playing hi-res music, the X7ii has no problems. It plays up to 64bit/384kHz WAV (for FLAC or Apple Lossless files its maximum is 32bit/384kHz) and DSD128 files.
Fiio has packed three different clocks into the X7ii – one for 44.1kHz, one for 48kHz and one for 384kHz – which should mean a more accurate digital-to-analogue conversion and, ultimately, better sound.
However, it’s worth noting that as a portable DAC, plugged into your PC or Mac via its MicroUSB connection, the X7ii is limited to playing files at a maximum resolution of 24bit/192kHz.
Battery power clocks in at 3800mAH, which should give you around 10 hours of life, and with two microSD card slots on top of its 64GB of storage, you can have up to 576GB of space for your music.
So it’s a pretty impressive spec list, but does that translate into good sound performance?
We load it up with a hi-res file of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Live at the Lyceum and this player doesn’t shy away from highlighting Marley’s wail as he faintly comes in above the chanting crowd.
The X7ii gives a good rendition of the croaking, snappy quality to his singing, and the clapping from the audience is commendably crisp.
This player has no trouble keeping each element organised, although we’d like a little more spaciousness.
Midway through No Woman No Cry, when the crowd joins in with the chorus, the X7ii manages to keep the voices distinct – but it has trouble revealing the scale of this live show.
Changing to David Bowie’s Blackstar reveals the X7ii’s sense of rhythm, too. Drumbeats shoot up on your left, rapidly switch to your right, and then disappear as quickly as they arrived.
Each is delivered with a good amount of punch, no matter whether it’s a smaller bash from a snare or a larger thump from Mark Guiliana’s kick-drum.
But many people looking at this player will be investing in streaming services too, so how well do they hold up?
We stream Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off via Tidal and there’s still a decent amount of insight to the midrange. Her giggle at the beginning of the track is natural enough, and the harshness to her modulated vocalisations are highlighted without being pushed forward.
Where the X7ii falls a little short, though, is in its lack of vibrancy. Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough doesn’t jump as it should, revealing the X7ii’s lack of dynamic drive.
The scream that kicks off the song is comparatively restrained, and the high-frequency synths streaking through the song aren’t as cutting as they should be.
To some extent, the X7ii is most severely hindered by its awkward price tag. The extra cost doesn’t translate to an improvement in sound quality over the cheaper Astell & Kern AK70.
And those who want to invest in a premium portable music player would be wiser scraping together the extra £200 and buying the Astell & Kern Kann.
The X7ii a decent player, performing adequately across the board, but its premium price is ultimately more difficult to justify than it should be.