Pros: Clean, detailed sound that works well with warm HP & IEM. Lots of inputs. Nice size. Nice, big, smooth volume pot. Looks great.
Cons: Made my neutral to bright cans overly bright for my taste. Large power adapter. Low-contrast text.
I was chosen to review the Aune X1S as part of a review tour sponsored by Aune. I am in no way affiliated with Aune, and this is my honest opinion of the X1S. I would like to thank Aune for giving me the chance to test drive the X1S, and I hope my thoughts prove useful for fellow Head-Fi members as well as for Aune.
Ok, so why review the Aune X1S? I'm pretty familiar with portable gear but have little experience with desktop gear. I previously reviewed the Aune B1 and was impressed with the sound quality, which was clear and detailed with a nice soundstage. When I saw the tour opportunity for the X1S, I thought it would be a great opportunity to become more familiar with desktop gear and see if my general thoughts on the B1 carried over to the X1S.
I'm a 43 year old father who loves music. While I listen mostly to electronic and metal these days, I do listen to a wide variety of music - from electronic (Autechre, Boards of Canada) to modern/minimalist composition (John Cage, Philip Glass) to alternative rock (Flaming Lips, Radiohead) to jazz (John Coltrane and Miles Davis) to metal (Behemoth, King Diamond) to classic rock (Eagles, Rush).
As mentioned above, I'm primarily a portable audio enthusiast. My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders (still have my Sharp DR7), and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-1xx, iPod 5.5, iPhones, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso.
Being a portable audio enthusiast, I typically listen with IEMs but am enjoying listening with full-size headphones more and more and tend to like u-shaped sound signatures, although I break out v-shaped IEM & HP from time to time for fun.
As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues. I've got mild tinnitus and suffer from allergies, which can affect hearing in my right ear. I'll admit it, I'm not blessed with a pair of golden ears. That said, I've been listening to portable gear for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear - just wanted to be transparent up front.
Please refer to this LINK for official specs.
PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
I really appreciate minimalist packaging, and that's exactly what you get from Aune. Packaging is highly reminiscent of the B1. A simple black & white box with just enough text to let you know that yes, indeed you do have an Aune X1S. Nice!
Neatly packed inside the box are the amp, USB cable, power adapter, 1/4" adapter, and the manual on a small, classy USB key. Really, that's it. I love Aune's approach to packaging and wish more audio manufacturers would do this! Please!!!
BUILD & ERGONOMICS
The X1S comes in either silver or black anodized aluminum. The tour X1S I received was the silver model, although I would've preferred the black model for a reason I'll go over below.
Here's the X1S's front.From left to right, it's got an input button, input indicators, a 1/4" headphone jack, and the volume knob. The input button obviously switches between the various inputs, but it also switches between the DAC's different filters. I've given these a listen on other DACs and will be completely honest that with my gear and ears, I'm not hearing a big enough difference to think it's anything but placebo effect for me. So, I'll refrain from commenting on these. The input indicators function just like you'd expect. The volume knob is a treat. It's a great size, turns very smoothly, and includes a marking to indicate the current volume setting. I mentioned that it's a nice size. This is important to me, as it allowed me to really fine-tune the volume with not only headphones but also IEM.
So I mentioned above that I would've preferred the black X1S. Why? Well, the silver X1S's text is quite low contrast. The text is nicely visible in the picture I took, but under normal lighting it's much harder to read. Contrast that with the black X1S's high contrast white text, which would be highly visible under a wider range of lighting conditions. My other niggle here is that despite loving the nice large, smooth volume knob, it really would benefit from the volume setting line having a bit of high contrast paint to make it visible under dim lighting conditions. Okay, enough complaining, let's get on with the rest of the review.
Here's the back of the X1S.
So, what do we have here? From left to right, we've got vent holes, power input, line in, line out, coax out, optical in, USB in, and the power switch. I think you've got enough inputs and outputs here to satisfy the budding audiophile, but to be completely honest, I was only interested in using the USB in and the headphone jack. I'd like to again compliment Aune for making the text readable when looking at the X1S straight on and from above. The upside down text was a nice touch!
I'd just like to emphasize that I thought the X1S is quite attractive and well-laid out. My minor niggle about low contrast text would be easily solved by purchasing the black X1S and carefully painting a white line in the volume knob's indicator.
I'm a Mac user, so for me the X1S was plug n play. I opened up the Audio MIDI Setup panel to set the maximum 384/32 output to find it was already configured. Basically, all I had to do was plug the X1S in, option click on the volume icon in my menubar, and choose the X1S. So easy!
I'm the first to admit that describing sound isn't an easy thing to do, so I'll try to describe this as clearly and concisely as possible without waxing eloquent about subtle nuances that only the highly-trained ear will hear. If you're looking for that, there are other reviews that meet your needs. I used a wide variety of gear with the X1S, from earbuds to IEM to headphones. Some of them were very easy to drive. Some were harder. And I also found an answer to the question I posed above, namely - how does the X1S sound relative to the B1 (to the best of my memory)...
I tested the X1S with the 300 Ohm VE Zen earbuds. I remember this being a magical experience with the Aune B1, and it was no different here. If anything, it was better. As soon as I plugged in and got some music going, I was immediately grooving on the music - bopping my head, tapping my toes, and having a great time getting lost in the music. It really doesn't get much better than that. With the X1S VE Zen struck a great balance between lushness and technicality. Bass was tight, mids were lush, and highs were crisp and detailed. Soundstage was good but not amazing, but I think that was a limitation of the VE Zen more than the X1S based upon listening to other gear. This might be controversial, but for me this was absolutely the best pairing. Fantastic synergy!
I tested the X1S with the Torque t096z tune-able IEM I also had in for testing. I used the blue and green tuning "valves" (nozzles, really).
The blue valve gives a downward-sloping sound signature, with great bass response, warm mids, and smooth highs. In contrast to listening on my DAPs, bass tightened up considerably, the midrange was left alone, there was a bit more sparkle up top, and soundstage opened up quite a bit. I found this was a good pairing for nice, long listening sessions where you were reading and didn't need to fully engage with the music.
The green valve is a reverse checkmark type sound signature. The listening experience was similar to that with the blue valve, but it allowed the X1S's detail extraction to shine through a bit more. Still nice to relax to, but you can also hear details pop out that make you engage more. I didn't try the brighter tunings, as I'd already figured out at this point that it was a road I didn't want to travel.
I tested the X1S with several pairs of headphones I had laying around and found I definitely preferred some more than others.
AKG K553 was a pairing I just couldn't take. At all. Sounded thin, lacking bass, cold mids, and piercing treble. Pretty much the same experience I had with K553 + B1. K553 might be up for sale soon.
HiFiMan HE400S sounded okay but honestly not that different than out of my DAPs. If anything, it was a bit on the bright side for me here so I didn't pursue it much.
HiFiMan HE400 was a different story, audibly benefitting from the extra power with tighter, well-controlled bass and added emphasis on the upper mids and lower treble. This again presented a problem for me, as to my ears it accentuated the HE400's treble peaks making the mids fade away more than usual. So, I ended up leaving my HE400 by the wayside, as well.
Philips L1 just couldn't keep up with the X1S. If anything, they suffered from it, with the X1S pointing out just how rolled off the top end was. Was hoping things might open up in the upper mids and treble, but there was just no hope. I think these are going up for sale soon!
SoundMagic HP200 were pretty good, although any improvements were minor. Bass sounded just a tad tighter and the upper end didn't get too of control, which I was honestly afraid might happen with these.
So what were my conclusions about the X1S? Well, first and foremost the X1S reminded me of a leveled-up B1. I could definitely hear a family resemblance. Hearing that, I quickly remembered my favorite pairing with the B1 - my VE Zen - and they didn't disappoint! I also really enjoyed the Torque t096z with the X1S. I plugged them in on a whim, and they sounded really good - much better than I expected, in fact. It was a pleasant surprise. So, those were the pleasant surprises. What else? Well, I found that I either didn't get good synergy with my full-size headphones or they simply lacked the capacity to scale with the X1S. The X1S made me reevaluate what headphones I want to keep and helped me make the decision to put a couple up for sale soon.
If I were looking for a pair of headphones to synergize with the X1S, based on my listening I'd go with a warm sound signature with a smooth upper end. This isn't the type of sound signature I typically go for, but as long as the headphone scale well I found this worked really well. It allows the X1S's detail retrieval to shine through without making the sound overly bright. That's just me. I'll remind you that I listen to a lot of electronic and metal, music with extremes - so your mileage may vary.
The X1S had absolutely no problem powering anything I threw at it, and I was even able to use my Mac's volume control + the X1S's volume control to fine tune the volume when using sensitive IEM.
Nothing jumped out at me even at very quiet listening level with sensitive IEM, which usually allows me to detect imbalance quickly.
Nope. Nada. Even with sensitive IEM. I am 43 years old, however, so if you're younger with bat-like hearing your mileage may vary!
I really enjoyed having he opportunity to review the X1S. It was a great learning experience for me, not only with desktop gear, which is new for me - but also in really testing out how far my earbud, IEM, and headphone collection can scale. When I found gear that scaled and synergized well with the X1S, it was a fantastic listening experience. For me, the VE Zen epitomized this. I was blown away by this combination and would encourage other to test it out. On the other side of the coin, I found that many of my headphones were quite simply a poor fit with the X1S to my ears. This is nothing against the X1S. In fact, I'm happy the X1S pointed this out to me.
I really appreciated the X1S's great design. I'm a sucker for simple design with clean lines, and the X1S's sleek anodized aluminum case pushed a lot of buttons for me there. However, the silver X1S's low contrast text was a let down. I'd encourage Aune to use higher contrast markings with the next iteration. For now, I'd encourage those of you looking to purchase the X1S to strongly consider the black X1S with its high contrast white text. If I were to get really finicky, I suppose I'd ask for a low gain option. But for my use case, I could always use a combination of computer volume + X1S volume controls to make fine-tuning the volume easier.
I'll leave you with one more picture, my favorite combination of the X1S + VE Zen...
Thanks again to Aune for giving me the opportunity to give review the X1S. I had a lot of fun, and it introduced me to a new facet of this hobby that I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun exploring in the future!