We’re so close to the release date of FiiO’s much anticipated X7 that I can almost smell it. The early snippets of reviews released by members of Head-Fi (who were lucky enough to be chosen for the X7’s development tour) paint a vivid picture of a unit that is going to be truly unique. No better can this be seen than with its novel use of interchangeable amplifier modules, with different hardware for different audio specifications. Initially planned to consist of 4 versions: IEM, medium power, high power and balanced output; James from FiiO has since stated that the company are looking for enterprising designers and engineers to expand this range and increase the overall customisability of the X7. With the brief being pretty open ended (the only caveat being that it needs to benefit the X7 and fit in the pre-designed housing), we thought today we’d count down the AV Shop’s top 5 modules we’d like to see developed.
1: Continue to play with the sound
Probably the simplest and most traditional route to begin with is to expand and vary the sounds provided by the current modules. James himself explained that future modules could strive for a specific tube-amp sound, they could aim to bring out the best vocal sounds of a track or even specifically cater for those that love the extremes of bass. The interoperability of these modules is tailor made for personalising your favourite sound quality and it is obvious that this is where FiiO will begin. Yet FiiO could take this idea further and instead of simply exchanging the amplifier, they could provide a module that exchanges the DAC as well. This opens up whole worlds of possibilities as certain modules could allow for a ‘classic’ FiiO sound (which is mostly seen as ‘warm') while others could provide a more analytical, reference signal. They could even create entire ‘classic’ modules that would use the higher decoding capabilities and greater UI of the X7 but output the sound signature of the original X3/X5. Before you all go and comment that “what’s the point of having the sound signature of a lesser DAP if you’ve bought the flagship?” it should be noted that there are those who really love that particular sound signature. FiiO could produce it at a fraction of the cost in module form and release it as a special collector’s edition.
2: Enhancements and improvements.
Of course, if FiiO can use their technological knowhow to re-create the audio architecture of past units (which, admittedly, is still utter conjecture), then why shouldn't they alo use the X7 as a springboard to test ideas for the future? They could add and re-wire the hardware as they see fit, tweaking and refining much as they do with the regular firmware updates. The difference in this case is that as more powerful chips become available, so FiiO can likely add them to the architecture; future-proofing the unit in the process. They could also use the lower part of the unit to alter the connecting capabilities of the X7; for example a unit could be made that accept USB Type-C. This would exponentially increase the life of the X7 beyond that of its competitors and allow FiiO time to plan the next leap forward.
3: Expandable Storage
Much has been made of the apparent ‘downgrade’ in memory afforded the X7. Its solitary microSD slot would halve that afforded the previous flagship X5ii were it not for an extra 32GB of inbuilt memory. Many serious audiophiles are worried that the memory afforded is not enough to hold their extensive collection of lossless files and they have a point. Regardless of the X7’s move towards wireless streaming, if it is to compete with the highest end DAPs (such as the AK240) it will need a credible amount of storage. Using the amp module as an extra memory source or, even better, using it to add a further microSD slot would help appease these concerns. Of course there may be issues with how you then amp the signal but these could be solved with a simple line-out to an external amplifier such as an E12.
4: Extra battery power
5: Limited EditionsOk, we concede, this is a pretty generic and catch all term that could mean anything from modules with rare (but awesome) chips to different finishes and exciting partnerships. For example; FiiO could strike a deal with certain labels (like Decca) and then create an amp tailored for a specific artist’s back catalogue (like David Bowie). They could then provide this catalogue preloaded onto the module so that you could hear it exactly as the artist expected you to. Of course, this could be a fairly pricey way to release music (and I’m sure there would be dissent from fans if they needed to buy a unique player to listen to rare tracks) but considering that Astell & Kern will be releasing an entire player built around this idea (the Blue Note 240), it seems a distinct viability. This news is exciting. Really, truly exciting. FiiO are going out on a limb and opening themselves to such a diverse future. With each module also due to work with the upcoming Q5 (and possibly future units TBC), the customisable options are plenty. That said, there is the sole drawback is that owning all these modules will add extra cost for us listeners, but considering the savings we make in owning FiiO units, I see no problem in investing. The future of FiiO, and DAP's in general, is looking very bright.