Review: FiiO M11

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This week we reviewed the FiiO M11 Hi-Res Audio certified DAP. Sold for €499, it heads the FiiO M range which now includes 6 models: the FiiO M3K, the FiiO M5, the FiiO M6, the FiiO M7, the FiiO M9 and lastly, the FiiO M11, the subject of this review. With a double AKM AK4493EQ DAC, this FiiO DAP boasts a very interesting spec sheet, but is its performance up to standard?

We tested the FiiO M11 DAP with the Meze Audio Rai Penta in-ear headphones: a highly recommended pairing.

FiiO M11: the brand

Founded in 2007, the Chinese brand rapidly forged itself a solid reputation thanks to the excellent value of its DAPs and portable headphone amplifiers.

FiiO released its first series in 2007 with a small portable headphone amp powered using a AAA battery: the FiiO E3. Compact and lightweight, it raised the DAP’s output level, allowing you to efficiently power a pair of headphones with a high impedance or a lower sensitivity rating. 

The FiiO E3 portable headphone amplifier was powered by a 1.5V AAA battery.

It was followed in 2008 by the even more compact FiiO E5 with its design that strongly resembled that of the iPod Shuffle. Powered by rechargeable battery (10 hours of battery life), it also featured volume controls and a bass boost.

The ultra-compact FiiO E5 portable headphone amp is powered by a rechargeable battery that provides 10 hours of use.

In 2011, FiiO released the FiiO E10 which was met with instant success. This small USB Audio DAC that could also be used as a headphone amplifier had remarkable audio qualities. The front of the aluminum chassis featured an ALPS volume control, a headphone output (mini-jack) and a bass boost switch.

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The FiiO E10 USB DAC and headphone amp could drive a pair of 16 to 150 ohm headphones.

The USB input used for connecting a computer was accompanied by a coaxial SPDIF output along with a Line output for connections to a stereo hi-fi amp without a DAC. It’s most recent iteration, the FiiO Olympus E10K, can still be purchased.

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Its most recent iteration, the FiiO E10K, is more powerful, can go deeper in the lows and provides a lower distortion rate.

Released in 2012, the FiiO Alpen E17 was the brand’s first portable Audio DAC and was instrumental in establishing the Chinese manufacturer’s reputation. Featuring a 24-bit/192kHz USB DAC and an S/PDIF input, it also had an integrated rechargeable battery and could efficiently power most headphones and earphones on the market. 

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The FiiO Alpen-E17 was compatible with MP3 players, smartphones and tablets in headphone amp mode. Its USB port and SPDIF inputs meant it could also be used as a 24-bit/96kHz compatible home audio DAC.

The manufacturer’s first portable digital audio player, the FiiO X3, was released in 2013. It featured a Wolfson WM8740 DAC and already provided a USB DAC mode. With an excellent battery life and a sound on par with that of the best music players of the time, it marked the Chinese manufacturer’s breakthrough into the HD digital audio player (DAP) market.

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Wolfson WM8740 DAC, FLAC ALAC (Apple Lossless), WAV and APE playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz, powerful amplification (540mW into 32 ohms): the FiiO X3 is optimized for Hi-Res audio file playback.

The saga of the FiiO X series was only just beginning…

In 2015, the Chinese manufacturer revealed a new DAP featuring a large touchscreen. The FiiO X7, which heads the X series, was a small revolution as it uses the Android operating system (modified for audiophile use) and features an interchangeable amplification section. The user can choose between different amplification modules with output powers adapted to different types of headphones or earphones.

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The FiiO X7 uses the 5.1 version of Android that is optimized for audio playback. Its ESS Sabre 9018S DAC can handle audio files up to 32-bit/384kHz.
FiiO M3
Compact, lightweight, with a large screen and touchpad, the FiiO M3 is visually appealing.

Compact and lightweight, the FiiO M3 was released the same year and was the first addition to the FiiO M range of DAPs. This model is designed solely for portable listening as it doesn’t provide a USB DAC mode. Compatible with WAV, FLAC, APE, MP3 OGG, WMA and M4A AAC files, it can decode files in FLAC format up to 24-bit/48kHz and WAV files up to 24-bit/96kHz.

2015 was also marked by the release of the FiiO EX1, the manufacturer’s first in-ear headphones. Featuring titanium tranducters and a cable in high-quality OFC, these earphones cover a wide frequency range (10Hz to 20kHz) and offer the user a dynamic and balanced restitution.

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Developed to be used with smartphones, the FiiO EX1 earphones are particularly sensitive (102dB/1mW) and have a low impedance (16 ohms), guaranteeing a potentially high restitution volume, no matter the source.

Today, FiiO’s range of DAPs is very extensive and includes models suited to all budgets and needs. The manufacturer has also developed its line of earphones which includes very affordable models, such as the FiiO F1, and the high-end audiophile model FiiO FH7.

The FiiO FH7 earphones proved to be a perfect match for the FiiO M11 DAP.

FiiO M11: packaging & accessories

The FiiO M11 DAP comes in a cardboard box protected by an elegant matte black sleeve. The brand and the model are highlighted by a beautiful selective varnish. Unfortunately, fingerprints are very visible on this sleeve…

The FiiO M11 DAP and its accessories (USB-A to USB-C cable and mini-jack to RCA coaxial cable) in the box.

Inside the box, the DAP is wrapped in a small plastic pouch and its screen is covered by a protective film. It is joined by a USB-A to USB-C charging cable, a mini-jack to RCA coaxial cable (for the digital output), a tool for the two microSD slots and a paper version of the user manual.

The FiiO M11 DAP comes with a flexible transparent protective case.

FiiO M11: presentation

The FiiO M11 DAP features a double AKM AK4493EQ DAC and is Hi-Res Audio certified. It handles PCM files up to 32-bit/384 kHz as well as DSD files (64/128/256). The FiiO M11 includes three headphone outputs: two balanced and one unbalanced.

The FiiO M11 is certified Hi Res Audio and Hi Res Audio Wireless.

It also features an aptX HD and LDAC compatible Bluetooth emitter/receiver and can therefore stream music wirelessly to Bluetooth headphones and receive music from a smartphone or tablet, also via Bluetooth. 

The FiiO M11 DAP has an internal storage capacity of 32GB, 24GB of which are usable. This can be extended via two microSD slots. Each slot can hold a memory card with a capacity of up to 2TB, for a total of 4TB extra storage. 

Both of the FiiO M11 DAP’s microSD memory card slots can hold cards with up to 2TB of storage.

Once connected to WiFi, the FiiO M11 can access numerous online music services. Lastly, the USB-C port means that this DAP can be used as a USB DAC once connected to a computer.

Design

The FiiO M11 DAP’s silhouette is somewhat reminiscent of that of the FiiO X5 III. An aluminum chassis, a large touchscreen protected by a sheet of glass, angled edges, a notched volume wheel placed in an indentation on the left-hand side, double memory card slots… There is a long list of similarities between both DAPs.  

The FiiO X5 III (left) and the FiiO M11 (right): the similarities between both designs are striking.

The FiiO M11’s screen is an inch bigger (2.54cm) and occupies 86% percent of the front of the device. Consequently, the M11 is only slightly bigger than the X5 III but has a larger display. It is just as pleasant to hold.

Double AK4493 DAC

The FiiO M11 includes two AKM AK4493 D/A convertors that are implanted in an entirely balanced structure. Taking over from the AK4490 DAC used in the FiiO X5 III, for example, the AK4493 convertor provides a much better signal/noise ratio (SNR) as well as a lower distortion. 

The FiiO M11 digital audio player also uses a pair of OPA926 operational amplifiers that have a low level of background noise and distortion as well as higher overall power than the AD8397 op amp.

There are six different settings available for the low-pass filter in the FiiO M11’s settings menu.

FiiO’s engineers have also worked on the low-pass filter, the power source and many key components (mainly the resistors and capacitors) in order to provide the best playback quality possible, no matter the headphones or earphones used.

Customized Android 7.0

The FiiO M11 DAP has a major feature: it runs on a customized version of Android 7.0 (Nougat) that is optimized to transfer audio streams directly to the DAC, without any digital modification. Therefore, you can enjoy the smooth and familiar interface of the OS, including touch navigation, without any sound limitations. 

Android smartphone users will be familiar with the FiiO M11’s home menu.

The Google Play Store is missing but Android compatible apps can still be easily installed via the FiiO Market store. The latter allows you to download several online music services such as Amazon Music, Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify and Tidal. It is also possible to download TuneIn to listen to webradios, as well as SoundCloud. 

FiiO Market, accessible when the FiiO M11 is connected to the internet via WiFi, offers several music apps to download.

Lastly, three more app stores are available, including APKPure, providing access to a wide range of apps to download and uncompress via the DAP’s file manager. We were therefore able to download Prime Video and watch the first episode of The Grand Tour.

NB: it is possible to switch to the FiiO Music interface, designed solely for music playback, whenever you wish. To do so, simply swipe downwards on the touchscreen then select “Android Mode”. The DAP prompts you to switch from Android mode to music mode. You then only have access to music stored on the device and shared over the local network when the DAP is connected to the home WiFi network. 

Once you have switched from Android mode to music mode, the apps are no longer accessible.

Large touchscreen

The FiiO M11 features a 5” touchscreen with a 18:9 ratio. Bright and well contrasted, it benefits from a 1440 x 720 pixel HD resolution. Although it isn’t astounding, this definition offers a precise display, making the information on the screen pleasant to read. The colors are also appealing, and the display of album artwork benefits directly. The only drawback is the shiny coating on the screen (protective glass applied in the factory) that acts like a mirror. In bright environments it can be difficult to read information on the screen. This flaw has also been found on many other DAPs, such as the FiiO M9 and the FiiO M7.

The screens of the FiiO M11 (left), FiiO M9 (center) and FiiO M7 (right) DAPs all suffer from this “mirror” effect.

Smooth interface

It is a pleasure to navigate through the FiiO M11’s different menus and apps compared to the FiiO M6, whose touchscreen and proprietary interface aren’t very user-friendly… The FiiO M11 is more reactive because it integrates a high-end Samsung Exynos 7872 processor and 3GB of RAM. Navigation is therefore very smooth.

By swiping downwards on the FiiO M11’s touchscreen, a menu with access to several settings appears: screen brightness, WiFi, Bluetooth, output (headphones or line), memory card, amplification gain (Low or High), low-pass filter, AirPlay and interface (Android or FiiO Music).

Power supply

The FiiO M11 is powered by a rechargeable battery with a capacity of 3800 mAh. The manufacturer announces a maximum of 13 hours of continuous playback, which is consistent with what we have observed during use, and up to 50 days of battery life when the device is in standby mode. The DAP is charged using the included USB-C cable, connected to a powered USB port or a mains/USB charger. 

USB DAC mode

When connected to a computer’s USB port, the FiiO M11 DAP can be used as a USB DAC in asynchronous mode. This means that its internal clock handles sending the packets of digital data to the convertor. Jitter is considerably reduced, providing a more precise and soft restitution.

In between the two headphone outputs is the FiiO M11’s USB-C port which allows you to charge the device, but also to use it as a USB DAC.

In USB DAC mode, the FiiO M11 can handle most audio file formats: FLAC, WAV, WMA, AIFF, APE, etc. up to 32-bit/384kHz; DSD 64/128/256 in ISO, DSF and DFF. You should note that if you wish to play Hi-Res Audio files with a sample rate over 24-bit/96kHz, it is necessary to install a specific Windows software driver, present on the DAP’s memory.

The FiiO M11 DAP used as a USB DAC.

Connectors

The FiiO M11 DAP features three headphone outputs, one of which is an unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack output. With an output power of 255mW (16 ohms), it can power most earphones and headphones on the market. It can also be switched to an S/PDIF coaxial output.

The DAP also has two balanced headphone outputs: one 2.5mm mini-jack and one 4.4mm mini-jack (Pentaconn), with an output power of 550mW under 32 ohms.

The FiiO M11’s connectors: the two balanced headphone outputs (Pentaconn 4.4mm and 2.5mm mini-jack) on the left, the USB-C port in the middle, and the 3.5 jack output (unbalanced) on the right.

Key specifications

  • DAC: 2 x AK4493EQ
  • OS: Android 7.0 (custom version)
  • CPU: Samsung Exynos 7872 (14nm)
  • Certified Hi-Res Audio & Hi-Res Audio Wireless
  • Bluetooth, AirPlay and DLNA compatible
  • 5” touchscreen

Compatible audio formats

  • DSD: DSD64/128/256 (“.iso”, “.dsf”, “.dff”), dst
  • DXD: 352.8K
  • APE FAST/High/Normal: 384kHz/24-bit
  • APE Extra High: 192kHz/24-bit
  • APE Insane: 96kHz/24-bit
  • Apple Lossless: 384kHz/32-bit
  • AIFF: 384kHz/32-bit
  • FLAC: 384kHz/32-bit
  • WAV: 384kHz/32-bit
  • WMA LOSSLESS: 96kHz/24-bit
  • MP3, OGG, WMA, AAC…

Measurements

  • Maximum unbalanced output power: 255mW (16Ω/THD+N<1%)
  • Maximum balanced output power: 550mW (32Ω/THD+N<1%)
  • Frequency response: 10Hz to 90kHz
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: 118dB
  • Channel separation: 108dB
  • Balanced output THD: < 0.002% at 1kHz
  • Unbalanced output THD: < 0.003% at 1kHz
  • Balanced output channel separation: 107dB
  • Unbalanced output channel separation: 72dB

Connectors

  • 1 x USB-C
  • 1 x 3.5mm mini-jack and S/PDIF coaxial (adaptor provided) unbalanced headphone output
  • 1 x 4.4mm (Pentaconn) balanced headphone output
  • 1 x 2.5mm balanced headphone output
  • 2 x micro-SD memory card slots

Network connectivity

  • WiFi: 2.4/5G
  • DLNA & AirPlay compatible

Bluetooth 

  • Version 4.2
  • Emission and reception
  • Compatible codecs: LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, SBC

Power supply

  • 3.8V Li-polymer battery
  • Capacity: 3800mAh
  • Battery life: up to 13 hours (50 days in standby mode)

Product information

  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 70.5 x 130 x 15.5mm
  • Weight: 211g

FiiO M11: listening conditions

We tested the FiiO M11 DAP with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones in both wired and Bluetooth (aptX) mode.

The FiiO M11 DAP with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones.

We also paired it with the Meze Audio Rai Penta in-ear headphones with their original cable (unbalanced, 3.5mm mini-jack), but also with a FiiO balanced cable (2.5mm mini-jack).

The FiiO M11 with the Meze Audio Rai Penta earphones.

We also listened to the DAP using the FiiO FH7 earphones with the Bass Boost filter (red), SpinFit (size M) tips and the original unbalanced cable (3.5mm mini-jack).

The FiiO M11 DAP with the FiiO FH7 earphones.

We listened to Hi-Res audio files (FLAC and DSD) stored on a memory card that was inserted in the player, but also via the Qobuz app (HiFi Sublime+ subscription). To do this, the FiiO M11 DAP was connected to the local network via WiFi using a Netgear Orbi router. We also took the opportunity to listen to files saved on a computer and shared over the local network (DLNA).

The different servers present on the network are visible via the FiiO Music menu by clicking on the DLNA icon. Shared music is then quickly accessible.

We also tested the DAP’s USB DAC mode by connecting it to a computer (Windows) with the USB cable provided. We listened to locally stored high resolution FLAC and DSD files via the Foobar 2000 app, as well as our review playlist on the Qobuz Windows app (Wasapi mode).

FiiO M11: listening impressions

The words that best describe the many hours we spent listening to music with the FiiO M11 are smoothness, balance, vitality and precision.

Tonal balance

Well defined and nuanced, the mids featured beautiful texture. Softness was prevalent and this frequency range, to which our ears are particularly sensitive, was expertly integrated. It was never artificially emphasized. 

Precise and detailed, the highs were both smooth and transparent. They were never too bright and we didn’t notice any sibilance, but, like the mids, they provided a lot of softness and were perfectly integrated.

The lows were energetic and precisely positioned, always in place. When the headphones and earphones permitted it, they were very deep and packed a punch when the track required it. The lows never overshadowed the other frequency ranges and always remained distinct and nuanced.

The spatialization of the different elements of the soundstage was convincing, both in width and in depth.

Balanced output and Bluetooth

Overall, the balanced output provided more softness and precision, but also more impact in the lows. The sound seemed even more natural than it did with the unbalanced output.

Listening via aptX Bluetooth wasn’t unpleasant per se, and was actually rather good in terms of sound quality, but once you have heard the sound offered by this DAP’s different headphone outputs, the wireless connection displays an obvious lack of definition and subtlety.

Listening session

Come Away With Me, Norah Jones (DSD 2.8MHz file saved on the memory card and via Qobuz 24/192 using WiFi)

The piano, guitar and bass notes were perfectly delineated and integrated. The voice was clear, the nuances and inflections were well reproduced, the breathing clearly perceptible. The spatialization was accurate and extensive.

Norah Jones’ voice was more captivating than ever with the FiiO M11.

42, Mumford & Sons (FLAC 24/44.1 – memory card and DLNA)

Once again, on the track Guiding Light, softness, balance and vitality were present. The lows were powerful, the electronic notes aerial, the different instruments clearly recognizable: the richness of the song was well reproduced, without ever being chaotic. 

Tales of America (Second Coming), J.S. Ondara (Qobuz app 24/192)

During the song American Dream, the double bass and drums hammered out the tempo with intensity and conviction, without altering the clarity of the singer’s voice, the violin or the guitar. 

Living the Dream Tour, Slash (Qobuz app 24/48)

Raging drums, saturated guitars, powerful vocals… The energy emanating from this live recording was demonstrative without being tiring to listen to. The bass packed a punch, although fans of the genre would probably want more. For our part, we were impressed by the impact, velocity and tonal richness of the lows.

The FiiO FH7 earphones and FiiO M11 DAP form an exceptional duo and proved to be ideal for all music genres. The sound was rich, precise, dynamic and detailed.

FiiO M11: compared to…

FiiO M6: the gap between the M6 and M11 is fairly wide. The size, definition and responsiveness of the screen, the smoothness of the interface, the ability to easily download numerous apps (alternative app stores), the precision and finesse of the audio decoding. Everything points in favor of the FiiO M11, which is admittedly sold at almost four times the price. Considering what this DAP has to offer, the additional cost is more than justified.

FiiO X5 III: the differences between these two DAPs by the Chinese manufacturer are less significant than with the M6. The M11’s screen, which is larger, provides better definition, and the integration of a Samsung Exynos processus greatly improves the user experience. The interface is smoother and more responsive. While the features are essentially the same, the use of the new AK4493 DAC and customized OPA926 op amplifiers results in greater precision, better spatialization and more dynamism. Music has more room to breathe and the listener is more easily captivated.

iBasso DX150: featuring two AK4490 DACs, the iBasso DX150 impressed us more than the FiiO X5 III, mostly due to its more natural restitution. With the M11, however, FiiO regains the advantage over its compatriot. Spatialization, energy, softness and precision place the FiiO M11 in the lead.

FiiO M11: conclusion

With the FiiO M11, the Chinese manufacturer confirms, not that it needed to, that it knows how to make excellent DAPs that you can enjoy without breaking the bank. Softness, balance, dynamism and precision perfectly characterize this DAP’s audio qualities. Moreover, the expansiveness and spatialization of the soundstage is very pleasant. Once the headphones or earphones are connected, it’s easy to get carried away and spend hours listening to your music without any fatigue. With the FiiO M11, even the most “challenging” songs are restituted with beautiful musicality and without any harshness. We just can’t get enough!

What we liked:

  • The customized Android 7 interface and touch navigation
  • The large HD touchscreen
  • The natural and rich sound
  • The consistent musicality across all genres.

What we would have liked:

  • For the screen to have been less reflective


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