REVIEW: FIIO M7

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Introduction

Since FiiO has announced this new DAP, I was really curious to try this nearly-entry-level solution. While being a little bit skeptical because of the RAM (it provides actually less than 1 GB of memory), the fact that it runs Android as OS surely was a plus in my mind. Furthermore, this is the firstFiio product with a USB Type C: for me, this is definitely another pro, but the line-up of Fiio provides a lot of Micro USB connectors with proprietary technologies (like the 16-pin connector that also carries the audio). In fact, if you want to use with the M7 – for example – the dock station, you have to use an adaptor; it’s clearly not a definitive solution: USB Type C carries the audio on its own, so I expect to see, in the near future, an updated dock and relative dongles.
The first important thing about this product is the absence of a WiFi module: even though it runs Android, you unfortunately can’t use online streaming services like Spotify – but, given the nature of this Audio Player, it would be a pity to use it with such poor-quality sounds; maybe Tidal users could be more disappointed at this point, but I’m actually no one of them. And I usually “feed” my DAPs with discrete quality FLAC files because I’m an offline kind of person. I also consider myself a “wired” person (not weird, author’s note), but for people who prefer wireless, this DAP carries a nice Bluetooth module (4.2, that’s low energy and long-range).
Consider what I wrote until now as an introduction, a conversational prologue. Henceforward I’ll be technical and pragmatic.

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Package
The M7 is packaged in an elegant white box, that reminds me of the Apple ones, or even better because it seems recycled paper (special consideration for the environment can’t be something bad). Inside we can find the player itself, a useful silicon case, the charging cable and the instruction manuals: basic equipment but nothing missing; otherwise I’ve really appreciated the case and the general elegance: remind this product is 200$-priced, which is a fierce price range because of the competitors. Really a point in favor ofFiiO.

This unit was sent me for the purpose of this review , I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks Lily and Fiio team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test such a well sounding product.

LINK TO THE OFFICIAL SHOP: http://www.fiio.net/fiio

LINK TO FACEBOOK PAGE:

Hardware, Design and Ports
I can clearly say this is a very 2018 product: a solid construction with really good materials (metal and glass), a good System on Chip provided by Samsung (actually an Exynos 7270), a USB Type C port (that I’m a great fan of), everything sweetly combined in this great-looking Audio Player. I’m not fully convinced about the memory area: both the RAM and the ROM feel significantly underestimated to run Android smoothly (we talk about 768 MB of RAM and 2 GB of Internal Storage). Obviously, to store the music files we have the possibility – I must say the obligation – to mount a Micro SD card: luckily it supports up to 512 GB cards! And I’m sure that nobody could be disappointed with that – does anyone really need more than that?
The musical heart of this player is the DAC ESS Sabre ES9018Q2C.
Speaking of placement, while I find more comfortable having both the charging port and the audio jack on the same side – the lowest -, for technical reasons they are placed on the opposite sides one another: in that way they avoid electrical interferences disturbing the audio signal. And it works great on the audio neatness way, as we’ll see on the dedicated section later; in fact, they grant a harmonic distortion that’s lower than 0,004%.
The audio jack also integrates a line-out output, which recognize the hardware and eventually bypass the internal circuitry while we use it as an external source.

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On the left side they’ve located the volume slider – which has a funny clicking wheel –and three solid buttons (previous song or Radio station, play/pause, next song). Given the small dimensions of the DAP, they result comfortable to reach and satisfyingly clicky. On the upper side we find, with the audio jack, the power button, that’s smart because it has an embedded notification led, which changes color when in charge/charged/simply on.
Something I didn’t like is the brightness level: even though the screen is good, the maximum brightness doesn’t feel enough bright. It could be an issue for those who need to see well under the sunlight.
A 1880 mAh battery is there to provide – as declared – up to 20 hours of listening on a single charge, but it’s not a real-life indication: that result has reached with a really low volume level, low quality files, screen off… but it’s no big deal, because I found that the endurance of this little player was very good: with good-quality FLACs and a little equalization, I’ve obtained a maximum quantity of 15 hours of music reproduction, that’s better than every other out there, I think. Even with a little Bluetooth use.

I was glad to find the FM Radio, a feature usually prerogative of super-cheap DAPs (I really don’t know why, because the multimedia area would always get advantage of it). FiiO has clearly listened to his users and payed attention to the market, both because of the updated USB and the modem area – even though we miss WiFi, but I’m sure we’ll find it in future models; it’s a question of time until they’ll release their updated “X” models, following the great way taken with this M7. However, the signal wasn’t bad at all, and the first time I opened the FM Radio I accidentally happened on a channel transmitting Jackson’s Billy Jean; I don’t really listen to the Radio when in search of audio quality, and that’s why I was surprised the most: that song sounded so detailed and pleasant that I thought I was listening, at least, to a good MP3 file. I’m glad this is not something placed to add a specification, but a cured sector (the chip, provided by Silicon Labs, is the SI4705).

Software
As an Android fan, I washappy to find this OS mounted on the M7. Here in a custom who-knows-what version (which I don’t know anything about, because it’s not even reported in the info), it’s a good-looking User Interface, that runs surprisingly well on that minimum amount of RAM. As I’ve already reported, this player lacks the WiFi module, which also means that streaming Apps won’t find any space. And this product doesn’t even carry the Google Play Store, which is obviously not necessary. However, I thought there was the possibility to sideload apps, if we were not satisfied with, for example, the stock Music Player; but we can’t: the pre-loaded File Manager perfectly reads every song and even hidden folders, but doesn’t show apk files in the micro SD card inserted. Anyway, I can assure that this Player App is so good that I’ve also installed the Beta version of it –provided by FiiO itself – on my Xiaomi Mi Mix 2. Not just the UI/UX side, but also the great optimization carried with it – and, in general, with this not-so-deeply-customized version of the green robot. For those who already are Android users, I must say, on balance, that there’s not much Android left here: even the navigation bar was removed in favor of gestures. Well, at least this is also a very 2018 thing.
However, after using the player, I can assure there aren’t any issues concerning software: I’ve found no big lags, but it’d be hard to, because the software is so limited! If it is a pro or a con, it’s a personal choice. I’ve found just some stray translation mistakes, and, in general, what I didn’t like about this area was not something that compromises the use of the device. For example, the only software way to stop the Radio FM receiving and playing is by opening the Music Player; I’d rather find an on/off switch, just like in the Music Player app. But you can obviously just press the dedicated hardware button for Play/Pause.

During my test period, I’ve received a software update – from 1.0.2 to 1.0.3. I clarify that obviously no notifications appeared on the DAP itself, but FiiO has released the OTA zip here: http://fiio.net/en/supports/56
To install it, I’ve just opened the support app on the M7, selected the zip that I previously inserted in my Micro SD and let it flash. It’s a matter of minutes.
As a Mac user, I’ll give this advice: this player connects via MTP, that’s a Microsoft standard. Given the fact that everyone knows Android File Transfer for Mac OS is a terrible app, I recommend using Commander One, which is so much better, or simply extract the SD from the player and put it into your PC, that will avoid crashes and other amenities. I would have recommended Hand Shaker by Smartisan, but it needs the companion app on the player and we can’t install it.

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Sound and Pairing
I’ve already wrote something about Bluetooth, but I must spend some other words for it. It’s not that I didn’t like it much here, it’s that I never enjoy this type of connection. Not just under an audiophile point of view, but mostly because of the discomfort of having to charge both the DAP and the headphones too many times. In fact, when the Bluetooth connection is on, the battery life decreases faster. I don’t actually have really good sounding Bluetooth headphones (I mean, AptX and various other HD wireless tech), but trying the M7 with the Bluedio T4S gave me a discrete impression: it’s a pretty long-range signal, that carries a crisp sound (with a little lack of bass, but I’m pretty sure it’s a headphone’s fault). I’ve also tried the M7 wirelessly with my Inateck BH1001 – obviously not an audiophile pair of headphones, but neither is the Bluetooth listening in general -: I’ve appreciated their sound in other (more sport-related) situations, and even with this DAP I’ve found an honest reproduction of frequencies; actually, they carry pleasant basses and good highs, while not perfect mids – and I don’t really love V-shaped sounding means, honestly. But I’m writing about wireless signals, which aren’t my favourite (or even some audiophile’s) kind of stuff.
The wired connection here, to my personal preference, was more enjoyable.
First thing to say about sound: this player carries a lot of pression. I didn’t raise the volume over 35 over 60, which is the sign that M7 can drive very high-impedance headphones. I’m wondering why the volume wasn’t divided in 100 steps; who knows.
However, I found the sound to be satisfyingly punchy and detailed in most of the genres I’ve listened to. Buckley’s Grace (the album) was the less enjoyable one because of the electric guitars’ quantity; the kneaded sound felt not-so-well managed in that situation. But in every other situation the M7 has driven my headphones very well, carrying a believable sound in the fidelity way and not coloring it too much. Just like I’ve said before, something surprising here is the noise level, that’s incredibly low. That makes the listening very clean and pleasant.

Some reference songs I’ve used:
– No son of mine, Firth to Fifth, Genesis
– I can’t make you love me/Nick of time, Bon Iver
– Love is a losing game, Amy Winehouse
– Brave new world, Kings of Convenience
– I don’t know what I can save you from, Kings of Convenience

And the headphones I’ve used:

(Good 100$) 1MORE MK801: I loved how they sound together. The soundstage is wide and thanks to the minimum noise carried by the M7, the room feels cozy and warm. I don’t think this DAP is a warm one in general, but they evidently balance themselves. The punchiness was there, but well managed, carrying a good amount of basses (but low sub-basses), decent mids and good highs. The voice was a little too sharp, mostly with female ones, while the instrument separation was very accurate. My quandary remains with Grace, like I’ve said before, because it feels too confusing for the instruments playing mid frequencies. But the equalization is there to help: try simply the custom presets – that I unfortunately didn’t find so different one from another, they are 9 – to adjust the sound; that obviously didn’t do any miracles, but it helps.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear (MK1, my loved ones): the best sounding of these first three, a little obvious given the price and the brand. The M7 underlines its pros but also its cons. For example, it’s well known that these earphonesare a little unbalanced on the lower frequencies and it’s clear, by listening to this combo, that this DAP make its work by… just sounding unbalanced on the lower frequencies. So, under the fidelity way I’ve no regrets on pairing these two instruments together. But you have to manually adjust the equalization (10 bands) by taking down a bit the bass, and then you’ll hear exactly what you expect to hear. Soundstage is wide enough, there’s no sound coloring – and I kind of like this flat experience, because you hear everything right. Very good mids in my ear’s taste, including instruments separation, voice clarity, nothing bad to say. Highs are just a little less intense, but still enjoyable. In general, treble with this DAP is well balanced.

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Fiio F5: great synergy, with wide soundstage and natural sound. This M7 helps to avoid any treble harshness and gives a nice bass impact. Vocals on f5 are a bit recessed, this player helps to give a more forward mid presentation.

Fiio ex1 2nd gen: very wide and holographic soundstage, with nice transient response. M7 helps to give a fuller bass response and less v-shaped sound signature.

Ibasso IT01: not a great synergy with this player. IT01 has a great and fun bass impact, for this M7 will give a nice soundstage and vocals, but too much bass quantity. Usually, this M7 has a great synergy with neutral/clean sounding IEM.

Dunu C-falcon: as for fiio iems, M7 has a great synergy with C-Falcon giving a fuller sound and better control. Vocals are sweet with a nice airy sound. I don’t feel too much harshness like with my iPhone.

I’d say this DAP is easy to listen to. Once, there was an agreement between song producers for the tuning. Nowadays, this is no more a thing, and mainstream music receive a mastering process that fills every sound gap and the sound results no more airy. Consequently, this DAP is tuned to fulfill this kind of sound, that’s a mass need, not really an audiophile one. But I liked this little M7, I’d say more than I expected, because it carries an unpretentious sound, which is yet a good-quality one: it’s musical, and this is what we are searching for. This price range carries a lot of good products (Cayin N3, Shanling M2S,…), in which I’d insert this FiiO’s M7, even with all its little faults.
An advice to FiiO: in the “support” section, I’d like to find something about screenshot functionality, and a quick link to the equalizer in Settings. Like, I’d make the equalizer an app itself, it would be simpler to put our hands on.

Notice that this DAP won’t work via USB (as a DAC), that’s only used to charge and exchange data. Explaining it better, FiiO provides support just for its Q1 MK2, Q5 or Chord Mojo, that I don’t own.

Pros
Design
Battery life
FM Radio
Sound
USB C
It reads everything you charge it with
Easy-to-use software

Cons
Poor Memory area
screen brightness
No balanced connection

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