A worthy successor of the FiiO M15, the FiiO M17 audio player now tops the Chinese manufacturer’s DAP range. A real concentrate of technologies, it uses a fully balanced structure with a double ESS DAC to play music up to 32-bit/768kHz, as well as DSD512 and MQA files. Its amplification stage features cutting-edge THX modules capable of delivering a colossal 35.3V of power in balanced mode and 17.5V in unbalanced mode. Will this abundance of technologies succeed in making the FiiO M17 the best player of the moment? Are the differences big enough to justify upgrading from the FiiO M15?
FiiO M17: packaging & accessories
The FiiO M17 DAP forgoes the luxurious real wood box of the FiiO M15 for more conventional cardboard packaging. Inside, the DAP is placed inside a brown leather case and comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable, an adapter to eject the microSD card holder and an AC adapter. This DAP can be recharged via USB using the included cable or the mains. In the second case, its power is increased, which in turn raises the temperature of the FiiO 17 DAP. It therefore comes with a second box including a metal table stand with an integrated cooling fan.
FiiO M17: presentation
The FiiO M17 surprises with its format, which is much more massive than the FiiO M15. Every dimension is larger, with a width of 88mm, a height of 156mm and a depth of 28mm. It is also heavier, and now weighs no less than 610g, almost twice as much as its predecessor. Its size means that it is too big to fit into the majority of pockets. Even in a jacket or coat, it remains bulky and less well suited for mobile use than its predecessor or its smaller counterpart, the FiiO M11 Plus. The FiiO M17 is therefore more suitable for listening to music at home, rather than outside. For mobile use, it is best to store it in a work bag and only take it out when sitting in a train, car or plane.
The M17’s design is halfway between that of the FiiO M11 Plus and the FiiO M15. It features an all-metal chassis made of brushed aluminum, except for the back which is covered with a tempered glass plate that reinforces the device’s elegant and luxurious look. The angles present on the different sides of the DAP are a lot more prominent than on the previous model, whose silhouette was softer and more rounded. The Chinese manufacturer has stated that it draws its inspiration from Japanese mecha robots with their very angular shapes. These more pronounced lines, similar to the players of Korean manufacturer Astell&Kern, do not make the device harder to handle, despite its larger size.
While not revolutionary, the FiiO M17 DAP’s ergonomy has been slightly improved. In particular, it is more practical thanks to larger controls, now positioned on both sides of the player. The left side features playback controls to play and pause music as well as change tracks. There is also a multifunction button that can be assigned to the function of your choice: shuffle, filter, equalizer, USB DAC mode or Bluetooth mode. Finally, a Hold switch allows you to lock the touch screen to control the device only with its various buttons.
The right side of the FiiO M17 features the on/off and standby button and a control to select the power supply mode: battery or mains. There are also two controls to adjust the volume, which can also be controlled using the large potentiometer located on the top of the device. The latter provides very smooth adjustment over 120 levels for precise volume control. However, it isn’t very user-friendly due to the lack of room when the player is in its case.
Lastly, the base of this potentiometer features an LED ring whose hue can indicate the resolution of the file being played. It can also be set to a permanent color or have a varying brightness depending on the volume, the battery level or the temperature of the device. These settings also influence the lighting hidden behind perforated grilles on the bottom of each side of the FiiO M17 player.
The FiiO M17’s touch screen is slightly larger than that of the M15, going from 5” to 5.99”. The resolution is also higher, with 1080 x 2160 pixels. The colors are still rich and naturally contrasted, so it is possible to watch YouTube and Netflix videos on the player. Like many of its competitors, the FiiO M17’s screen is prone to reflections outdoors, but its high brightness allows for a readable and pleasant display in all circumstances. Finally, the Snapdragon 660 processor and 4GB of RAM ensure smooth navigation through the various menus and applications. The experience is just like using the latest smartphones.
Double ESS DAC
The FiiO M17 DAP has swapped its predecessor’s AKM converters for two ESS ES9038Pro ultra high-end chips. Implanted in a double mono configuration, these chips use no fewer than 8 conversion channels to decode a single channel. The results are similar to an equipment using a set of 16 single channel DACs. This layout allows for fully independent conversion of the left and right channels to reduce interference and distortion while optimizing dynamics and the signal-to-noise ratio. For even more precision, the FiiO M17’s DACs work in tandem with two NDK Crystal Femto oscillators. As a result, the FiiO M17 DAP is able to provide optimal playback for all PCM streams up to a very high resolution of 32-bit/768kHz, as well as DSD files up to DSD512 and even MQA 8x.
The FiiO M17’s amplification uses THX modules: two THX AAA-788+ chips implanted in an entirely symmetrical architecture. A clear optimization of the previous THX modules, including the THX AAA-78 of the FiiO M11 Plus, the THX AAA-788+ chip delivers a level of power never before seen in a digital audio player. The sound it offers is similar to that of the best class A amplifiers without consuming more power than conventional class D amps. The THX AAA technology of these modules ensures a precise reproduction and a negligible noise level, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 123 dB, distortion inferior to 0.0006% and a frequency response ranging from 5Hz to 80kHz.
The FiiO M17’s amplification modules power the four headphone outputs: two balanced (2.5mm and 4.4mm mini-jack) and two unbalanced (3.5mm mini-jack and 6.35mm jack). The maximum output power is phenomenal, with 11.3V for the balanced outputs and 6.2V for the unbalanced outputs, with the highest gain setting and when the DAP’s battery is used. With its 12V AC adapter, the FiiO M17 can go even further with the Super Big Ear mode to provide an output of 35.5V in balanced mode and 17.5V in unbalanced mode. No music player is capable of such a high voltage. Even if no headphones really need such a phenomenal output, it ensures that the FiiO M17 can power the most difficult headphones and IEMs on the market without being pushed to its limits, at the risk of degrading the sound quality.
The FiiO M17 is unique in that it can be powered by battery, USB or mains. For mobile use, its 9200 mAh battery promises up to 10 hours of autonomy in unbalanced mode or 8 hours in balanced mode. Figures that proved to be accurate during this test, with even a slight increase in autonomy for unbalanced listening at reasonable volume. This battery uses its own power supply circuit specifically designed to optimize its capabilities. When the FiiO M17 is combined with the included 12V adapter, it uses a different power stage to boost its performance, in particular the output of the amplifier modules. Such performance generates quite a lot of heat during prolonged use. To limit this, the FiiO F17 adopts an optimized structure with a frame that has several openings, but also embeds a liquid cooling system. At home, the FiiO M17 will have to be placed on its dedicated stand with an integrated cooling fan. It then becomes a very attractive desktop headphone amplifier. Regrettably, the stand’s ventilation is slightly noisy, so it should only be used when necessary.
Android and WiFi
Like the majority of the brand’s DAPs, the FiiO M17 runs a version of Android that has been specifically modified for music playback. Audio streams are sent directly to the double DAC without any intervention from the OS. The operating system’s interface is very similar to Android for smartphones and ensures an intuitive experience when navigating through the different pages. As of recently, FiiO players include the Google Play Store to facilitate the installation of any mobile application, including online music services such as Deezer, Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz, for example.
In addition to Android, the FiiO M17 DAP can be switched to the Music Pure mode in which the FiiO Music interface takes over to provide access only to locally stored music as well as music shared over the local network. The other applications are no longer accessible. The M17 can also be used in USB DAC mode to play music stored on a computer, and in Bluetooth receiver or AirPlay receiver mode to play music shared from a smartphone or computer. One of the M17’s new features is the SPDIF Decoder mode that allows the conversion of signals from a hi-fi source connected to the DAP’s coaxial input. It is important to note that the latter can also be used as an output to connect an external DAC. These commands are easily accessed by swiping the screen from top to bottom, then tapping “mode selection”.
Bluetooth and AirPlay
In Bluetooth mode, the FiiO M17 can receive music from a smartphone, tablet or computer thanks to a Qualcomm QCC5124 controller. The latter is compatible with the majority of Bluetooth codecs, including the classic SBC and AAC, but most importantly the aptX, aptx HD, aptX Adaptative, aptX Low Latency and LDAC high resolution codecs. As a result, it is certified Hi-Res Audio Wireless, making it a serious option for wireless listening. Moreover, the FiiO M17’s controller is reversible for use with wireless headphones or IEMs. Note that the FiiO M17’s receiver and emitter modes cannot work simultaneously. Finally, the FiiO M17 can act as an AirPlay receiver to facilitate listening with an Apple source: iPod, iPad, iPhone or Mac.
FiiO M17: key specifications
- Double ESS ES9038Pro DAC
- 64GB internal memory that can be extended via a micro SD slot
- Double THX AAA-788+ amplification
- 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 and MQA 8x compatible
- Android with WiFi
- 2.5mm and 4.4mm mini-jack balanced headphone outputs
- 6.25mm jack and 3.5mm mini-jack unbalanced headphone outputs
- Battery or mains power supply
- Dimension (WxHxD): 88 x 156.4 x 28mm
- Weight: 610g
FiiO M17: listening conditions
For our review of the FiiO M17 DAP, we connected it to the Meze Liric (closed-back), Meze Empyrean Elite (open-back) and Audeze LCD-5 (open-back) headphones. We listened to FLAC and DSD Hi Res files stored on the DAP’s 64GB of internal memory. We also installed the Qobuz app to enjoy the 24-bit/192kHz music available to stream on the platform, but also Spotify (MP3 at 320 Kbits) to test the DAP’s musical qualities with lower quality files. Lastly, we tested the DAC USB mode with a MacBook Pro and the DAP’s USB cable.
FiiO M17: listening impressions
The FiiO M7 had a similar sound signature to the M15, but with an even more polished, refined and pure reproduction. The sound was very analytical and authentic, most probably due to the change from AKM DACs to ESS chips. The transparency was even more impressive, as was the dynamic range of the soundstage, which took advantage of the increased amplification power to better handle the most significant shifts. The timing was even better, much more rhythmic and more precisely positioned. The FiiO M17 proved to be worthy of the best headphone amplifiers and we soon forgot about its size.
The soundstage delivered by the FiiO M17 player was remarkably extensive and spacious. It offered a lot of space and clarity to the different frequency ranges, which were expressed freely and swiftly. The contours of vocals and instruments were precise and delicately extracted. Each track was reproduced naturally, while preserving the acoustics of the audio recording. The harmonic richness of the music was delivered with ease and attested to the FiiO M17’s boundless energy. The percussion instruments benefitted from clear attacks and their clarity allowed us to hear even the tiniest details. Everything was lively and the DAP managed to get the best out of every recording.
The FiiO M17 DAP was always very neutral and didn’t overemphasize any part of the sound. It had an appreciable analytical ability to perfectly reproduce each register. The spectral balance was masterful and managed to create the best possible chemistry between the different tonal ranges. The highs were surprising and soared without going over the top or sounding aggressive. They were crisp, reproduced with agility and rose very high while remaining precise, controlled and light. The mids were opulent and full of micro details. Their refinement allowed them to reproduce vocals naturally and with a lot of sincerity. Lastly, the lows were tight and round. They were always well controlled, whether it was with the subtle reverb of a double bass or with the much deeper and energetic bass of electronic music. They were also a bit denser than with the FiiO M15.
Energy, transparency and space are the words that come to mind when describing the FiiO M17 DAP. The sound was always enveloping and there was a lot of space in between notes, which were perfectly positioned throughout the soundstage. Whatever the gain or volume setting, no background noise disturbed our peaceful listening sessions. The gap between every musical breath was perfectly silent, allowing the notes to seemingly emerge from absolute darkness. The transient response was ultra fast and could instantly release a colossal amount of power, bringing the dynamics to heights rarely reached with a mobile device.
FiiO M17: compared to…
Astell&Kern A&futura SE200: sold for €1,929, the Astell&Kern SE200 DAP has the particularity of using two conversion stages: one with an AKM AK4499 DAC and a second with two ESS ES9068AS chips. Each DAC is associated with a different amplification section to offer independent circuits. The conversion and amplification circuit is switchable, which allows you to enjoy a different sound according to your preferences or music. Overall, the Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 is dynamic, transparent and detailed. It offers a slightly warmer sound, especially when using the AKM DAC. However, the FiiO M17 is unbeatable as it offers more energy, spaciousness and transparency. Advantages that make the FiiO M17 more cumbersome and heavy. The Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 is therefore more suitable for portable use.
Cowon Plenue L: available for the same price, the Cowon Plenue L has an 8-channel ES9038PRO DAC that is 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 compatible, but doesn’t support MQA. The amplification stage with the more standard power output is still very convincing, with a detailed, clear and balanced sound. Nevertheless, the FiiO M17 remains more refined, dynamic and transparent. This FiiO player is also more intuitive to use with a larger and more detailed screen, and features WiFi for access to streaming services. The Cowon Plenue L, on the other hand, is reserved solely for listening to music stored locally or on a microSD card.
FiiO M17: who is it for?
The FiiO M17 DAP is aimed at the most discerning users who are looking for a first-class solution to enjoy music with headphones or a pair of in-ear monitors. Due to its rather massive size, the FiiO M17 is more suitable for enjoying music freely at home. One can imagine using it on a desk with its ventilated stand, while having the possibility to carry it to the living room, the kitchen or the bedroom, for example. That way, the need for a hi-fi system in every room is eliminated. Outdoors, the FiiO M17 can’t really be slipped into a pocket to follow the user all day. It is better to carry it in a bag to listen to music while traveling in a plane, train or car. We also picture the FiiO M17 as an excellent all-rounder for enjoying music at the office, but also when working from home.
FiiO M17: conclusion
The FiiO M17 digital audio player is a serious leap forward compared to the FiiO M15. It improves in every area, starting with the sound which gains energy, presence and transparency. The feeling of space is much better, while the increased current reserve ensures a more energetic impulse response and better transient reproduction. In use, the FiiO M17 also gains in smoothness and comfort thanks to a larger, higher resolution and brighter touch screen. However, all these improvements come at the expense of the thickness and weight of the FiiO M17, whose mobile aspect appears to be secondary. The size and performance of the FiiO M17 make it more of a battery-powered desktop headphone amplifier for occasional travel rather than daily use on the bus or subway. In this field, the FiiO M17 excels and ranks among the best current references. It is difficult to find better, even if you pay more.
- The transparency and spaciousness of the soundstage
- The great energy
- The accurate transient reproduction
- The smooth navigation
We would have liked:
- A more compact format
- For it to have heated up less