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?
FiiO M11: the brand
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
- 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…
- 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
- 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
- WiFi: 2.4/5G
- DLNA & AirPlay compatible
- Version 4.2
- Emission and reception
- Compatible codecs: LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, SBC
- 3.8V Li-polymer battery
- Capacity: 3800mAh
- Battery life: up to 13 hours (50 days in standby mode)
- 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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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