With the holidays dawning over, it is quite hard to catch up with the reviews especially with so many things going on these days. Thankfully, while the staff’s hands are full, we still manage to scrounge time to squeeze in a review or two from time to time to keep up.
Thankfully too, we got some gears coming in for us to play and tinker with, so all in all, I think Bus Ride Impression had a pretty good year behind us. We can’t be thankful enough.
So today, I will be writing about the last few reviews for the year, and hopefully this will bring forth even more reviews for the coming year.
Xduoo has been a household brand for portable audio particularly to the entry-level market for a few years now, and has been the go-to gear for most new enthusiasts. They entered the scene with the Xduoo X1 and X3, something that easily hooked fans into the hobby considering its good price-to-performance ratio. While it may not necessarily be the best in the market, it edged out a lot of competition through the original X3’s capability to be modified with Rockbox. Fairly enough, a huge number of consumers got entranced by its sound.
I personally find the original X3 a bit flawed, with a few things seems to be problematic with the DAP: weak battery (saw a few bloated X3s after a few months), very basic UI (the UI was somewhat reminiscent of the DOS-mode screen off PCs) and in terms of sound, I encountered a couple of units which clipped a split-second off the start of the track. Xduoo didn’t seem to bother to fix that problem, and probably it was because they were already gearing up for the second generation.
My hopes were somewhat rekindled upon the release of the X3ii, of which I thought that maybe Xduoo somehow thought about properly designing the device by fixing those quirks from the older version. Perhaps, the company is able to come up something much better as I find the X10 still a bit lackluster considering how much gap there is between it and the X3.
Let’s go through and see if Xduoo did manage to pull some strings to make the X3ii a truly decent entry-level DAP, encompassing the performance of the older version.
I think this would be the best part to start in comparing the X3ii to the X3. As expected, Xduoo picked up a few things off the X3, with the mentioned flaws of the DAP, Xduoo would definitely be picking on these if they intend to improve and amass a bigger market from how it was with the X3.
What stood out as the biggest improvement in terms of build is the interface. From using a primitive UI, Xduoo decided to go for a lot more aesthetic looks for the UI. Instead of that teal, DOS-mode looking interface, Xduoo switched to a magazine looking main menu, with each sub options looking a lot better than how it was. The design also added the album art option which is a plus, as many would like a more intuitive display with the album art pasted across. As a result, the display became significantly bigger, making it easier to make out whatever is written on it.
Button lay-out also looked heck lot better, with the buttons scattered in a more ergonomic manner compared to the X3. I also liked how firm and more tactile the buttons felt in comparison to the somewhat loose buttons of the X3. Power button was also assigned a different color, which I think should be beneficial as it makes it easier to identify which button to press when locking and unlocking the DAP as well as turning it on and off. I kind of disliked how the previous/next buttons looked like though; replacing it with up and down did not really help in initial usage of the DAP as it kind of confused me.
Xduoo also decided to shift to Type C charging and data transfer, a welcome change since technology is already on the direction of using the said mode. The port also allows the X3ii to be used as an external DAC, something that the X3 is not capable of. Be wary about the 3.5mm jacks at the bottom side of the X3ii though, you might confuse the line out jack and the headphone jack, which can be painful if you get it wrong. Yes it is labeled properly, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Xduoo decided the second Micro SD slot, perhaps to allow the additional features to be packed in X3ii’s housing. I don’t see this much a problem, as 256GB worth of music files should be more than enough (i don’t even normally use such size of Micro SD, as I am usually in front of my PC anyway to switch files around).
One of the biggest features added to the X3ii though has to be the Bluetooth functionality. It is reported to use Bluetooth 4.0, so sound should be pretty decent. It would have been asking for a lot to add LDAC capabilities on the X3ii, but then, wishful thinking.
With the introduction of Bluetooth to the X3ii, the removal of the extra SD slot was offset by adding Hiby Link to one of the features of the DAP. Using Hiby Link, you can tether the X3ii to your phone to allow access to the music files on your phone. This allows control over the music on your phone without taking it out of your pocket. This will also bypass the on-board DAC of your phone in favor of X3ii’s AK4490, allowing some improvement over your phone’s sound quality. I tried the function and was pleased with the result.
The X3ii also brags a bi-directional USB functionality, which allows the X3ii to be used as an external DAC/amp and can also be connected to another DAC/amp, bypassing X3ii’s AK4490 in case you really want to. I was anxious to try the latter, only to find out that if you use a DAC/amp with no volume control (the likes of Advanced Accessport Lite, Hidizs Sonata and VE Odyssey, you will be merely stuck in with your music in perpetually max volume. Good thing I decided not to wear my IEM before playing anything. The function worked pretty well though when I used the iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label though.
Battery life is reported to be up to 13 hours, but I am getting various numbers on the battery life so I just gave it a go to see how long it will last. Using an IEM directly (Clear Tune Monitors Vintage Series V-2), it did last for approximately 11 hours before dying on me. Pretty decent for me. As to how long before the battery’s lifespan goes, that I will have to see if it has some improvement over the X3 (and if/when the battery bloats after some time).
Overall, everything does show some improvement from the original version. I haven’t really touched on how much difference it has with similarly priced DAPs in the market, but then I think the justice really lies on how much Xduoo worked on improving the X3 by creating the X3ii.
Now comes the critical part. While the X3ii did present the bells and whistles the X3 was not able to, a DAPs primary function really is to play music, and can only be justified by the quality of sound it can yield. While the X3 did make a niche in the market by offering a great price-to-performance value, X3ii will have to top that with even better sound.
While it does carry a similar signature to the X3, the X3ii has something up its sleeves: I noticed it to carry quite a distinct behavior of being dependent to the track. For some tracks I tried, it doesn’t seem to shine so much but when used with properly mastered tracks, it does do pretty well. Yes, this is not uncommon with so many DAPs in the market, but the X3ii seems to show a bit of polar difference between poorly recorded tracks and those that were mastered properly. I tried my copy of Janie’s Got A Gun by Aerosmith which I suspected to have been upscaled from MP3 320 mbps to FLAC and I picked up a few artifacts off the file using UFOEar 112. These are not the kinds of artifacts you pick up from a ripped vinyl, but are obviously caused by the upscaling. Same is true with Money For Nothing by Dire Straits, of which seems to sound so seamless as I played it with the same set-up. While the version of Dire Straits isn’t something I would compare to the sound when played with the Hifiman HM-901S, it somehow did a pretty good justice for something worth $120.
I was just hoping that somehow Xduoo did a bit of a job on the mids, which I think felt dry around the lower mids area. I really don’t have issues with X3ii having a bit of a recessed mid-range when on high gain, but it could have worked on making it a bit lively. Thankfully enough, the upper mids are pretty well-tuned in the sense that it isn’t peaky.
Bass is pretty hefty especially on high gain, so I would recommend to use an IEM with a more relaxed low ends or probably go for low gain as I felt the bass a bit tamed with the said gain setting. This may depend on the user though, but I find that by using a bassy IEM, the mid-range feels a bit more recessed. I tried the DAP with Daft Punk’s Fragment Of Time with the Clear Tune Monitors VS-2 and found it pretty bassy on high gain. For those who likes good bass, depending on the IEM used the X3ii can do pretty well as long as you set the expectations straight based on the value of the DAP (note: I tried X3ii with the KZ ZSN. Bad move.).
Bluetooth doesn’t seem to be so bad in spite of the technology it carries (I have seen quite a few non-Sony DAPs that has LDAC, surprising that Xduoo didn’t jump the gun yet). I tried pairing X3ii with the Advanced 993 and it yielded quite a decent, enjoyable sound. I was just hoping that the details would have been better (tried Five For Fighting’s Superman, the soft cymbal hits felt a bit indistinct) but then again it wasn’t really so bad especially in a more quiet environment.
With such a taste in treble, I liked how properly tuned the X3ii is with the high frequencies. I tried to fiddle with the EQ settings and was still able to get quite a decent sound off the treble even on the Pop and Dance settings. Xduoo did a pretty good job on this part.
At this point, considering the price and how it is built and how it performs, I can’t say I have much issues with the X3ii. Yes, I thought it would have been nice if there is some volume control when using DAC/amps with no volume control as mentioned earlier, but then again it can barely be considered a gripe. Yes, the LO and HO jacks can be confusing at the beginning, but you will eventually get used to it anyway.
At the price of $120, I think Xduoo did a pretty good job considering what it has to offer, so I am thankful for that.
Thankfully enough, Xduoo did their research and listened to their consumers, fixing the issues their previous designs had. Of course, you can’t expect a $500 sound off the X3ii, but for the price, I think it can even compete with $200 DAPs, which is saying something. If asked, I will definitely recommend the X3ii especially to those who are in the market for budget DAPs.
I am just hoping that the battery won’t give up the same way my old X3 and X10 did.