DAPs can come in a variety of price ranges, much like headphones and IEMs. The ones that get the most acclaim are the ones that go for more than a pretty penny. This can alienate some that want to experience a nice DAP, but just don’t have the budget for one. Fiio makes a lot of nice players in that mid-fi range, and the M11S is one of the most affordable players they’ve made recently. Is this a good entry-level device for the price, or should you wait and save up for something better?
What You Get
- M11S Player
- Clear protective case
- USB Type C cable
- Screen protectors
- User guide
The M11S shares some similarities to other M11 series players. Its structure and design will be familiar to anyone who has used recent Fiio players, with its rectangular frame and sleek black casing. While being a smaller player for a lower price, the M11S still feels like a premium DAP when you hold it in your hand. The volume lever has a nice carbon-fiber coating for its click-in buttons, and it always feels responsive. Its top is completely clean with all of the headphone connector plugs placed at the bottom of the device. You’ll see 4.4mm, 2.5mm, and 3.5mm headphone jacks represented here, along with a USB Type C connector. On the right side, you’ll see a MicroSD slot and three playback buttons. It’s a simple layout that gives you everything you’ll need right at your fingertips. This solid aluminum body is paired with a 5-inch touch-screen that feels as natural to use as any smartphone.
What will give the M11S its biggest boost in sound performance is its dual ES9038Q2M DAC chipsets. With this high-performance chipset, the M11S is able to decode up to 384kHz/DSD256 of audio data. This is paired with new dedicated amplifiers that are independently powered in an attempt to increase dynamics and power. Its OS is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 operating Andriod 10. The interface should be familiar to anyone that has used current Android phones.
It’s hard to have a Fiio player that doesn’t have an engaging sound, no matter the price. Getting some of its lesser characteristics out of the way, the M11s is not nearly of a player as any other version of the M11. Even in high-gain mode, the M11s need to be pushed significantly more with certain sets of headphones. Planar headphones like the HiFiMAN Edition XS needed to be boosted to a little past 80% in order to hit a comfortable loudness to enjoy. Using a 4.4mm balanced cable with the XS moved the imaging forward considerably though, and the experience felt much more pleasing. The mix was more energetic and felt more intimate too.
I don’t find its lack of power with higher-sensitivity headphones much of an issue, as I would mostly be listening to IEMs with a DAP anyway, and the M11s have no problem pushing those. In terms of the soundstage, the M11 does its best to widen and separate the sound elements more clearly. Using a few IEMs with balanced connectors, the difference isn’t as drastic as it might be on other players, but the results are still noticeable.
Using the Kinera Skuld, the imaging definitely had more dimension to it. Instruments wrapped around the mix more consistently, and localization felt more natural. In the sound spectrum, the M11s is able to reproduce some strong detail, especially in the lows and highs. The bass lays a sturdy foundation and compliments bass-head IEMs with a solid body of tone.
When testing tracks with the Kinera Hodur, I felt like the response was deepened, spacing out detail around my jaw and at the tip of my throat. It is definitely the biggest change of pace going from another source to this player. Moving over to the treble, the highs have a specific clickiness to them that I was pretty enthralled by. Closed hi-hats have a natural spark in the mix, and the plucking of strings exerts a blissful resonance. There is tightness and control to the response that makes the treble feel even more naturally represented on the M11s. Then there are the mids, which still offer good detail and clarity, but the M11s don’t necessarily fill in those blank spaces. The tone never truly feels richer, but the transparency of the mids helps put on a fun showcase for instruments and vocals.
There have been a lot of awesome DAPs from Fiio, and with the M11S I don’t feel bad about recommending one to my friends anymore. The M11S is the perfect entry-level device for premium portable listening. My main concern is that Fiio also has the M11 Plus ESS for a hundred and fifty dollars more, and it might be worth saving the money for. However, if you really can’t break that five-hundred-dollar range, then it’s great that Fiio has this option.
The Fiio M11S is available at Audio46.