A handful of you audiophiles have been asking me to review a DAP. Digital audio players are a difficult thing to review. There are so many aspects to them that can make or break them. There is the functionality of it, the battery life, the sound, the power. And yet, this week I was inspired to take a look at a pretty affordable DAP. It is the new FiiO M7. It goes for $199 and since I’ve been on a FiiO kick lately, I figured getting my hands on the M7 was a great opportunity to bring you such a review. So without further ado, let’s get into it with this FiiO M7 review.
FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
In the Box – FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
-FiiO M7 DAP
-clear protective case
Design – FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
Look and Feel
When I first opened the box of the FiiO M7, I was struck by the simplicity and cleanliness of its look. It’s housing, which seems to be made of aluminum or a similar lightweight metal, looks classy with its silver tone against the black border of the 3.2’’ screen. It’s power button and 3.5 mm headphone / line output sit along the top. The left hand side houses the volume knob, play/pause button, and previous/skip track button. Finally, the left hand side holds the SD card slot and the USB-C port is along the bottom.
Additionally, the FiiO M7 is super portable. It is a perfect size because it is large enough to hold comfortably and safely in your hand, but small enough to fit easily in your pocket.
GUI (Graphic User Interface)
The GUI (Graphic user interface) of the FiiO M7 is simple. Poking around if for a few minutes, navigating the FiiO Music App felt effortless and in general, the layout felt intuitive. Making playlists, as I’m wont to do, proved to be super easy too. I wonder how I would like the FiiO Music App if I had a lot more music, but with the 120 songs or so of mine, it was straightforward to sort through them all and search among them. My favorite part of the GUI was the swipe up feature. If you swipe up on the left side of the touchscreen, you move back to the previous page. If you swipe up on the right side of the touchscreen, it goes back to the homescreen. This is particularly helpful because there are no forward, backward, or home buttons for navigation.
Technology – FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
The information in this section is less of an opinion/review piece, and more of the facts that I thought made the FiiO M7 stand out among other players (especially at its price point). So while I’m happy to share this information, know that even more information is available at the FiiO website about it.
One of the most notable features of the FiiO M7 is it’s impressive battery life. It has 20 hours of playback time, and 40 DAYS of standby time! FiiO was able to accomplish this by incorporating the Samsung Exynos 7270 SoC (System on Chip) which is made on a 14 nm FinFET process–previously a 28 nm process. I am not an expert in this type of technology at all, but FiiO claims the result is that it uses 20% less power!
Additionally, the FiiO M7 has a special packaging technology which fits storage, power management, and memory chips into a super super small package (about 40% smaller than if the chips were packaged separately). Therefore, it has a more efficient cooling system and can fit a larger battery.
Lastly, the power supply section inside is more robust than other players because the FiiO M7 is the first player to have a 6-layer multi-stage HDI (high density interconnect) PCB. As a result, components work more closely with each other.
The FiiO M7 supports a wide variety of wireless listening codecs and file formats. Not only does it include the latest Bluetooth codec using a Samsung Bluetooth 4.2 chip, but it also supports apt-x HD and Sony LDAC. This proves FiiO’s commitment to hi-res playback.
Additionally, the FiiO M7 supports USB playback for both PCM (192k/24 bit) and DSD (DSD128). It supports a wide variety of file formats for all the formats a nerd could possbily dream of: APE/WAV/FLAC/WMA/OGG/AAC/ALAC/MP3.
DAC (digital to analog converter) chips affect the sound reproduction in a big way. Just ask the audiophiles on all the headphone forums around town. The FiiO M7 converts via an ESS Sabre 9018Q2C chip which has a few benefits over other DAC chips, according to FiiO. First, these chips have two independent power supplies (one for the digital section and one for the analog section). Next, the headphone amplifier has its own dual power supply. It has an adjustable LPF (low pass filter) so developers can adjust its sound. And finally, contributing to the battery life, these chips save space on the PCB which reduces power consumption while still delivering 49 mW of output power and -100dB of THD+N!
I absolutely love that FiiO is so dedicated to having a low noise floor. It enhances the listening experience by making dynamic changes more explosive. This makes the music have a greater emotional impact, a more realistic soundstage, and a tighter bass response.
On the FiiO M7, there is just 2GB of internal storage. However, it supports micro SD cards with up to 512GB of storage. All the music collectors in the room, rejoice, for your collections shall fit.
Sound – FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
Unlike my typical sound review sections, rather than splitting things up into lows, mid, and highs, I figured it would be easier for me to describe the sound of the FiiO M7 by delving into the most noticeable parts of its sound. It’s hard to listen back and forth with other DAPs to compare, and I think putting the description in this way will be more helpful to ya’ll.
The FiiO M7, in combination with high resolution FLAC files (or the like), immediately provides a sense of three dimensionality. In part, this vividness reveals itself through the sensation of clarity and separation in the midrange. For example, when I was listening to the song The City by Ed Sheeran, the vocal, the guitars, the beat box, the background vocals, the keys and the strings, all of which are midrange-rich, have significant separation from each other when I was listening on the M7. This distinctness was less clear on the FiiO X3 MKII, and much less clear when I listened to the same song via 320 kbps on Spotify on my phone.
In particular, Sheeran’s vocal came through more emotionally. The space around it gave it room to breath (in addition to hearing more of his literal breath) and thus his energy seemed to come through more directly than before. Additionally, the dirty guitar on the left balanced well with the clean guitar on the right. It had more specificity in its attack and sustain which helped the guitars have more impact on the groove (which mostly previously came from the beat box and bass synth).
The soundstage expression of the FiiO M7 is vivid and full in each dimension (height, width, and depth). As a result, the M7 can replicate a sense of realism, intimacy, and spaciousness if the mix conveys it. These qualities are difficult to build out of nothing, which makes me really appreciate the role this relatively inexpensive DAP can play in a budget audiophile’s collection. Even when I listened with my $100 Beyerdynamic DT 240s, the staging felt revealing and intricate.
For example, when I was listening to Dear Prudence by The Beatles, the vocals enter with almost a creepy sense of intimacy. They exude a sense of height which contrasts dramatically with the wide panned guitars and the bass guitar which anchors the sound to the wide edges of my head and the lower region of the height by my chest. Meanwhile, the drums provide a sense of depth. They feel further out in space and despite their roominess (especially noticeable in the high-hat) are detailed and distinct.
The FiiO M7 boasts a low noise floor, and I believe this manifests itself in a lively and energetic response to dynamic changes. This response translates into emotional impact for me, and just generally makes listening more experiential.
For example, in the song Crescendolls by Daft Punk, there is a lot going on, particularly in the rhythmic subdivisions. A four-on-the-floor kick pattern graduates to exist among sample cuts and intricate percussion and 1/16th note synth drones. Each subdivision comes through quickly and with lots of detail. As a result, once all the instruments are in, a feeling of chaos and celebration comes through the headphones with high energy and fun!
Overview – FiiO M7 Review – Best Affordable DAP
Overall, the FiiO M7 is a high quality DAP for just $199. I would recommend it for audiophiles looking for a way to play their FLAC files, but unfortunately can’t recommend it for those looking to stream.
The FiiO M7 is available with a 10% off coupon at Audio46 with the code “majorhifi”.