ZIKU HD-X9 REVIEW: Audiophile sound for peanuts price.

ZIKU HD-X9 REVIEW:

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SOUND: 9/10
CONSTRUCTION: 9.5/10
DESIGN-INTERFACE: 9/10
BATTERY LIFE: 10/10
VALUE: 9.5/10

INTRO:

Today we will look at a mysterious DAP that has been on the market for about a year and a well kept secret everywhere but in Russia, where it earn numerous praise from their audiophile community.

This digital audio player is call ZIKU HK-X9 and use the high end Cirrus Logic CS4398 dac chip that we can find in budget or TOTL DAP like the Xduoo X3, Astell&Kern AK70 or Colorfly C4.

The fact the X9 is sell for less than 50$ make him the cheapest DAP using this extremely capable DAP, and if it wasn’t enough, compared to most other DAP using CS4498, X9 can be use as UBS (or otg) dac-amp and have a long battery life going up to 20H.

Even if dac implementation was badly made, the X9 will still be a bargain, but its amping section is MAX97220A and do very well driving iem or headphones up to 64ohm with enough clear background and low THD to make me consider it as an high end entry level DAP.

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Sure, there no dedicated Line out, high gain or customizable equalitzer, but X9 have a great all metal construction and quite intuitive interface that really make it interesting for those searching the perfect budget DAP.

It make months that this ZIKU music player was on my radar, and I finally buy it with my own money to test it and share this review with you. As an incurable cheap ass, i’ve been able to get a 20$ discount from VS AUDIO and want to thank them for that.

With all this waiting for testing it, my expectation are certainly higher than necessary for a DAP at this absurd price, but I will try to stay objective about its price range even if X9 hit above it. For this review I will make comparaison with different DAP priced around 100$.

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INFO & SPECS :

  • Supports EBook Reading: Yes
  • Audio Format Support: FLAC,APE, FLAC,MP3, WAV,OGG,APE
  • Style: MP3
  • WIFI: No
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 88*56*15mm
  • Package: Yes
  • Brand Name: RUIZU
  • Function: E-Book Reading
  • DSP: ATJ2167
  • Balanced Out: No
  • Screen Size: None
  • Storage Type: Flash Memory
  • External Memory: Yes
  • Model Number: HK-X9
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Supports FM: No
  • Have Speakers or not: No
  • Signal Noise Ratio: ≥80dB
  • Battery Life: > 20 hours
  • Battery Specification: Lithium Battery 1900mah
  • Supports Recording Function: No
  • DAC: CS4398
  • Body Material: Metal
  • Operation Mode: Touch Tone
  • Screen: Yes
  • OPAMP : MAX97220A
  • USB Connection: Support mini USB,USB3.0
  • Support OTC: Yes
  • Color: Black, Grey
  • Battery: 3.7V 1900mAh
  • Max External Memory: 128GB
  • Max output power: 10mW+10mW(32Ohm

AMP SPECS :

Key Features

  • Output Power 125mW into 32Ω with a 5V Supply
  • 3VRMS Output Drive into 1kΩ with a 5V Supply
  • 2VRMS Output Drive into 600Ω with a 3.3V Supply
  • Fully Differential Inputs
  • Fixed or Externally Adjustable Gain with No Clicks or Pops
  • Wide 2.5V to 5.5V Operating Range
  • DirectDrive Outputs Eliminate DC-Blocking Capacitors
  • Flat THD+N, Better Than 90dB in the Audio Band
  • 18-Bit SNR Performance, 112dB
  • Footprint Compatible with the MAX9722

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FIRMWARE UPDATES :

LINKS:

2017 Firmware (the one I use): http://www.mediafire.com/file/flldbeag2ijneml/UPGRADE.HEX/file

2018 Firmware (people say it work fine):https://cloud.mail.ru/public/EUd5/vSDVp8dnE

IMPRESSIONS : With stock firmware, I was having issue with output volume, especially when used as otg-usb dac where the X9 have very low volume as if it where just low output line out. The DAP sound was quite nice, clear, balanced and very transparent, but you need very sensitive iem to enjoy it.

After firmware update, wich is quite simple as you just put the file on sd card and press update option in setting, all issue was solved. The volume output became more powerfull, at least 2 times louder than stock firmware and USB DAC work perfectly, for example, when you change volume with scroll wheel you can see it on your laptop screen.

About sound, i’m less sure, as I feel it became brighter and less linear, but still sound extremely good, just not as subtle and transparent than with stock firmware. Anyway, I barely listen to X9 with stock firmware because of volume issue so it is most probably same sound quality.

CONSTRUCTION, INTERFACE & FEATURES :

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UNBOXING here is inexistant, as I receive my player in a protective case without box. Only accesories appart from the case is a USB to microUSB cable of standard quality. No user manual, wich is somewhat problematic.

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CONSTRUCTION is very impressive for the price and would still be great even if priced 100$. It’s all black brushed alloy with only the volume wheel being plastic. X9 is bigger than I was thinking, but still fit in pocket easily, it have a reassuring weight to it, that promise serious inner construction. Screen is of good quality, quite big and with good luminosity (when brightness set high). The 2 buttons at right side and 3 on front panel, all made of metal and you will not encounter unwanted pressing due to good construction. The output jack is plastic but feel good quality too. Only drawback is the volume wheel, wich feel cheap and not very accurate.

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INNER CONSTRUCTION is well done quality circuitry that inspire trust. We can see the cirrus DAC and MAX amp. The 1900mah battery is quite bigh and explain the good weight of X9.

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INTERFACE is quite intuitive, wich impress me with an unknow DAP that just have 2 langage setting (chinese and english). In fact, its really similar to Xduoo X3 interface, minimalist but well done. You search your music trough folder, artists or genre. There not a lot of buttons, so no confusion. Only drawback is that volume control wheel is used to choose menu option wich can be dangerous if you set your volume high and press play without knowing it. As well, the lock buttons is the same as the power buttons and can be press easily by error.

When a song play, you hold back/menu button to explore a menu with Play mode, equalizer (sound setting), add-remove playlist and delete.

To note : you must press ‘’create playlist’’ and update it to explore music by artist, albums or genre. ‘’Create playlist’’ mean ‘’Update media’’ in fact.
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Still, you can create playlist, by holding back/menu button when playing a song you wanna add. There 3 ‘’Playlist on the go’’ you can create.
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So, about interface, as said, its based on same firmware of Xduoo X3, but have as well album image show on the (bigger) screen.
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It’s pretty basic, have no gapless or custom equalizer, but have playlist, shuffle, repeat and predifined equalizer (rock, funk, hip hop, jazz, classical, techno….not very interesting sound change) and…Ebook!
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Only thing about interface that is different from X3 is pressing back button to go back to music playing when your in menu, wich is a little drawback. As well, the auto shut down option cannot be change, so your X9 will tell you GoodBye quite fast (3 minutes) and this can be annoying.
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USB-OTG DAC is plug and play and work perfectly. You connect it, have 2 choice appearing on X9 screen (USB dac or Charge&Play). You don’t need to power on X9, it will open when connected. An interesting and usefull feature of this DAC is that you can use volume wheel and it will control laptop or phone volume, this permit to only have one volume control, unlike some other DAC-AMP. Sound is the same as in DAP mode, no hearable difference but volume is a little less loud (THAT is hearable difference) and it can inflict on dynamic.

BATTERY LIFE can go up 20H easily and I listen to high volume. I think the DAP charge when you use it as USB dac as well…otherwise, well, battery is just infinite?

SOUND IMPRESSIONS :
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Listening the ZIKU HD-X9 is a very rich and detailed sound experience, and its really hard to convince myself this incredible DAP sell for around 50$ as it can compete with any sub-200$ DAP without inferiority complex. This is way better sounding than my Walnut V2S, Benjie S5 or Xduoo X2, here, we can say its from another league. In fact, only my Xduoo X20 and Ibasso DX90 have better resolution. So, why only russian go crazy about this DAP? Well, because nobody but me use google translate? I really don’t know. Perhaps when you own a ZIKU HD-X9 you transform yourself into ‘’Lord of the ring’’ Gollum and selfishly hide with your secret treasure.

X9 have a neutral, linear, slightly bright, near completly uncolored sound with great treble extension that do not struggle to expose inner details of your music, its very musical but do not feel forced, imaging is out of this world for this price, without being artificially pumped in soundstage presentation. There no distortion in bass, mids or high, its clean clean clean, and background noise is not hearable with the iem, earbuds and headphones I try. Timbre and texture is generous, you-will-be-impress.

BASS isn’t pumped up but easily extend to 40hz where a smooth drop perhaps begin. Its well detailed without being too harsh, sub is a little dry in fact but well separate from mid bass wich give extra agility to bassy earphones. Very clean, agile and slightly bright bass presentation.

MIDS are rich, balanced and have good separation, whatever number of instruments playing in 1khz-6khz range. Its not ultra wide coloured mids, vocal are well centered and have above average details. They sit on bass, never mixing badly with it. Again, we have a balanced and linear presentation.

TREBLE is ultra extended and very revealing. This is where there perhaps some colouration, because percussion sound very clear and lively, but never too fowards. X9 just never struggle to extract micro details. This type of dynamic treble is just a miracle at this price range. Fast, precise, with tigh decay and rich but transparent timbre.

SOUNDSTAGE isn’t enormous, wich is surely due to average amping power, but it is deep and have fabulous layering.

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COMPARAISONS :

VS FLANG P5 (84$) :
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The Flang sound warmer and more coloured than X9. P5 have a particularly expended soundstage, wich is due to a W shape soundsignature, so it feel wider than X9 but with less clarity and deepness.

BASS is more sub emphased, but lack a little punch compared to more foward, fast and dry X9 low end, we have the better resolution with X9 and a more linear bass, but perhaps a slight roll off around 40hz (or lack of colouration?).

MIDS again are more coloured with P5, giving more presence but in a thick way that can feel a little grainy, X9 have richer mids range that can reveal more details and have better separation.

TREBLE is more extended and detailed with X9, sharper too, and near analytical compared to warmer P5 that have upper treble roll off. THD is lower with X9 as well as background noise floor.

CONSTRUCTION of P5 is all cheap plastic while X9 is all metal making him looking more expensive than the P5. As well, even if smaller, X9 is heavier.

Interface of P5 is kind of disastrous, while the X9 is intuitive.

Ziku X9 can be use as USB or OTG DAC , P5 cannot.

P5 can send Bluetooth, X9 cannot.

Battery life of X9 is longer (about 20H) while P5 is less than 10H.

VS XDUOO X3II (110$):

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The X3II sound softer and slightly veiled compared to brighter and more detailed X9.

BASS is flat with smooth timbre compared to more textured and punchy lower end of X9.

MIDS of X3II are wider with more transparence, wich make me consider it as mid centric even if again its very smooth, X9 vocal are more intimate and centered, brighter and clearer but not overly fowards.

TREBLE of X9 is more extended and extract more details, while X3II have more transparent layering and sound more coloured in upper treble to give extra brilliance. X3II have lower THD and about same black background.

SOUNDSTAGE is deeper with the X9, wider with the X3II.

CONSTRUCTION is all metal of both DAP and of great quality, they are near same size but X9 is a little larger. X3II have more buttons and front buttons are more sensible to unwanted pressing.

Both DAP can be use as USB-OTG DAC-AMP but X3II can send bluetooth too.

Equalizer of X3II is better because of 10 bands custom possibilities.

Battery life of X9 is about 2 times longer. Output is about the same, but X3II have higher signal to noise ratio.

VS XDUOO X3 (110$) :
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Compared those two is really a big deal for me, because X3 is one of my favorite DAP.

Both using same cirrus 4398 dac chip will make them most likely sound similar, it’s true, but they do not use the same amping section, X9 being MAX97220A differential amp while X3 is a OP+BUF architecture. Difference of amping affect slightly the sound, but its more about output power here, X3 being a hint more powerfull.

So, yeah, both sound quite similar, but X3 have a more energic and fowards sound, and perhaps less finesse than X9 (!!!!!!!!!!).

X9 and X3 are both neutral sounding DAP with little emphase on upper treble.

SOUNDSTAGE feel this time a little wider with X9, and more deep. Imaging is about the same.

BASS is a little more punchy and fuller extended with X3, little brighter too so we have more texture.

MIDS are a little thicker with X3 and more prompt to underline sibilance of bright earphones than X9.

TREBLE is both very detailed and extended, X9 feeling more liquid than grainier X3.

As said, we have a little more details in timbre with X3, but to the cost of less transparency and more fowards presentation.

CONSTRUCTION of both is excellent, but X3 is invincible and I don’t think X9 can be beaten up as much without scars. As well, X3 is smaller, slimer and less large. There zero piece of plastic with X3, including metal output. It have 2 microsd slot where the X9 have one.

Battery life of X9 is way longer than X3, 20H against 8-10H.

X3 have line out but no USB-OTG DAC.

All in all, i consider these 2 sounding so similar its hard to have a favorite in term of sound, but the fact X9 is a great USB DAC make and cost half X3 price make it a better value.

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CONCLUSION :

My expactation about the ZIKU HD-X9 was gigantic and I confess that it sincercly surpass them. I was thinking it will be less powerfull, that I will struggle with interface, that the sound will be hissy somewhere but after the firmware update, X9 show me how extraordinary a chinese 50$ DAP can be nowadays.

At this price, only the ZISHAN Z3 can surely compete with this DAP, but i’m not a big fan of AK4490 dac and the 20H battery life of X9 is just unbeatable.

Yes, I wish it have a dedicated line out, and perhaps a little more power….but this is like wishing your passionately loved perfect girlfriend was a polyglot or jiu jitsu champion. Its just a caprice.

If you need a reference DAP and USB-OTG DAC for your IEM that offer long battery life and clean, accurate sound, I can’t force you to buy the ZIKU HD X9, but really, what are you waiting for? Jump-on-it-NOW.

For more reviews and audio product impressions, please give a look to my No BS Audiophile website!

8 Comments

  1. Hi… After read your article I’ve ordered my X9 and I Will recieve It in a few days. But the links to download the new firmware doesn’t work for me at least (from Spain). Could you do something? Maybe send to me the zip or upload it again. Thank you so much.

    Like

  2. Hey, NymPHONOmaniac, just wondering: do you have experience with the benjie t6? This two DAPs seem excelent choices for their price points but the t6 can act as an bluetooth dac. What’s your opinion?

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    1. I just own the Benjie S5 wich i find very practical and okay sounding for the very small price. I think T6 would sound better than S5 but inferior to X9 due to great cirrus CS4398 dac the Ziku use. As well, it would surely be less powerfull. Interface of T6 look better and BT is always a nice features. Not sure T6 can be use as USB dac too, so, for features and practicality might be best, but for sound only i will go with X9.

      Like

  3. Greetings rikficrif, thanks again for your reviews. If you have time to answer that would be great. I have a few questions regarding the X-9: Do you still recommend the X-9 ( less than $100), or is there another you like? I’m mainly going for the sound, don’t need to line out, BT, etc. just the sound. My Music will come from a MacBook (usb-c), will the transfers be easily done? Or recommend another? Thank you again for your help and your time.
    Best

    Like

    1. Hi, well, due to volume control issue and difficulties with the firmware update, I do not suggest it anymore. The sound is great but the DAP isnt very trustable. perhaps buyin a cheaper WALNUT V2S will be betterr….if you dont care about the fact their no screen and interface is very minimalist. The sound is more powerfull and it can be used both as USB DAC and standalone AMP. Crazy good value even today at 25$. And yeah, it will sound better than your MAC. Zishan Z3 is another solution too (not tested).

      Like

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