The FiiO M7 is the Chinese manufacturer?s latest DAP. An entry-level model, it competes with the FiiO X3 II but is profoundly different. Just like the FiiO X5 III and the FiiO X7, the FiiO M7 runs Android. On the other hand, instead of depending on third-party apps, this version of Android is totally customized and dedicated to running the FiiO Music app. It wouldn’t be fair to question this, since it allows FiiO to control the DAP?s functionality (no app will cause it to freeze). It also gives the DAP a way to work around the native Android audio mixer, which unequivocally directs the signal to the internal DAC at 48 kHz. The FiiO M7 can thus natively handle CD-quality and HD-quality audio files, as well as DSD.
FiiO M7: Samsung processor
The FiiO M7 is the first DAP in the range without an ARM Rockchip processor. Instead, it is equipped with a Samsung Exynos SoC, an energy-efficient processor featuring state-of-the-art components. In addition to its more precise etching process, this Samsung SoC presents a host of advantages, since the Bluetooth 4.2 controller is directly integrated. A boon for the brand, since it was thus able to collaborate directly with Samsung to develop wireless audio transmission controls.
FiiO M7: State-of-the-art Bluetooth transmission
The FiiO M7 DAP is compatible with all forms of Bluetooth transmission technology: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD and even LDAC (Sony?s HD codec). Using in-ear Bluetooth headphones or a pair of on-ear or over-ear Bluetooth headphones is not a ?poor man’s? choice in this case?quite the contrary. With the FiiO M7, any listener will be able to get the most out of a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Icing on the cake, if your headphones are compatible with the LDAC, aptX HD or aptX codec, you can make the FiiO M7 use the transmission technology of your choice.
FiiO M7: ESS DAC and headphone amplifier combined
FiiO has added another plug-and-play solution to the FiiO M7 DAP with the ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC. This highly energy-efficient DAC, specially designed for mobile devices, is fitted with its own headphone amplifier. It?s another opportunity for FiiO to benefit from the expertise of ESS Tech, as the DAC-headphone amplifier pairing is perfectly optimized (impedance, output level’). The brand claims that the FiiO M7 has a battery life of 20 hours in playback mode and 40 hours in standby mode.
FiiO M7: file formats handled
The FiiO M7 has 2 Go of internal memory, which is expandable up to 512 Go with a microSD card, according to the brand. During our test, we used a 64 Go microSD card. The FiiO M7 handles a wide variety of file formats, including FLAC, WAV, WMA, OGG, AAC, ALAC and MP3. Audio files may be copied from a computer to the DAP and deleted directly via the DAP.
FiiO M7: user interface
The FiiO M7?s menus won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who uses an Android smartphone or tablet or a device running iOS. The user interface is straightforward, with 6 clearly identified buttons and conveniently located settings controls. For newcomers, FiiO has created a ?Technical Support? function with diagrams and explanations on how to use the device.
FiiO M7: user experience
The FiiO M7 is fitted with control buttons (power, click wheel volume control, previous track, next track, pause/play). These are found on the DAP?s left panel. The 3.2? LCD display has a resolution of 480×800 pixels and isn’t extraordinarily user-friendly. The matrix technology used adds a bit of a sheen to the image. The interface is easy to read (fortunately), but any entry-level smartphone does better, notably in terms of response time. That being said, the FiiO M7 doesn’t confront the listener with any major hurdles.
FiiO M7: listening impressions
Headphone output: a pleasing sense of balance, a bit set back in the highs, detailed yet reserved in the mids, and a lot of punch and realism in the lows. The balance is good, and the mids and highs are not excessively highlighted. The timing is convincing. With a pair of Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones, a model known for putting extra emphasis on mids, the balance is gratifying.
Bluetooth: in aptX mode with the Plantronics Backbeat Pro, the listening experience is an enjoyable one. Clearly, the DAP?s internal DAC is not used in this case, and the FiiO M7 only adds compression and transmits the audio signal. The software is efficient, although it?s no match for a smartphone?s Qualcomm Snapdragon SOC in terms of breadth.
FiiO M7: compared to?
FiiO X3 III: the X3 is a very good DAP, but its design is rather run-of-the-mill, with a separate DAC and external components to run its headphone and line outputs. The fact that the FiiO M7 integrates a DAC combined with a headphone amplifier sets it a cut above the X3 while making its restitution more balanced. The X3 only handles the basic Bluetooth SBC codec. However, it does feature a USB DAC mode, which gives it an advantage (for the moment?) over the FiiO M7.
Shanling M2S: the Shanling M2S offers a smoother, more nuanced sound thanks to its AKM4490 DAC. It also has more functions (USB DAC mode, Bluetooth DAC mode, control via mobile app with a smartphone, etc.). Its display is very good, but navigating through its OS is a bit tricky due to the lack of a touch function.
The FiiO M7 is equipped with excellent audio components. It delivers a robust sound and a more or less ?analog? balance. The Bluetooth aptX-HD and LDAC controller is a real plus. It?s too bad the display isn’t more impressive.