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FiiO M11 Pro

Rating:
4.83333/5,
  1. Wyville
    Matured with a slightly bigger waste line
    Written by Wyville
    Published Dec 16, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very fast and smooth user interface, natural and detailed sound, both 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced out, sound quality is a step up from the M11
    Cons - Still no Google Play store support, shorter battery life, FiiO Music app not quite there yet, down to a single micro-SD
    FiiO M11 Pro

    Disclaimer
    I would like to thank FiiO for providing me with the M11 Pro in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favourable review.

    M11 Pro vs. M11 Specifications at a glance
    M11 vs M11 Pro.png

    Links:
    https://www.fiio.com/Home
    https://www.facebook.com/FiiOAUDIO

    Preamble
    The M11 Pro is one of the most highly anticipated DAPs of the year. FiiO's M11 was already a big hit earlier in 2019 and this was going to be the biggy: the M11 adorned with the three golden letters 'P', 'R' and 'O'. As irresistible as sticking an 'X' after a name, the golden moniker "Pro" made people flock like magpies to swoop in and scoop up the latest and greatest now adorned with extra shiny letters! Okay, clearly I am being tongue in cheek here. If anything the "Pro" designation caused mostly confusion, especially as FiiO made it known that it would see a return on their yet to be released M15 flagship as well. That is four DAPs (the M11, M11 Pro, M15 and M15 Pro) released in close succession with seemingly little to differentiate between them. FiiO explained this with an analogy to phones being released with similar iterations and I can see what they might be aiming for. Customers will have varying budgets and wish lists to try and hit their own personal sweet spot in terms of price, performance and features. FiiO's approach here seems to be an efficient way to create a number of 'sweet spot'-options for potential customers to choose from. Of course for the traditional audiophiles among us it is just confusing and they are left thinking... "Why not stop with the distractions and just release the M15 Pro already?" ...because old farts have more disposable income (= M15 Pro) than penniless students (= M11) or those sensible enough to save their end of year bonus (= M11 Pro). Not sure where that leaves the M15, but we will write that one down to middle management... maybe upper-middle management because it is rumoured to be fitted with dual AK4499 DACs.

    Yes, still kidding there, but you get the idea. Every person has a budget and their own priorities and FiiO is trying to find a way to cater to as many customer wishes as possible. A bit confusing perhaps, but time will tell if it was a good decision or not.

    Because the M11 and M11 Pro are so close, this review will focus mainly on the differences and I highly recommend reading my previous review of the M11 (link) for those things that have not really changed, such as the user interface and general user experience.

    Unboxing
    The unboxing experience is virtually identical to that of the M11. It is the same box with some updated graphics and opening it up reveals the M11 Pro with one noticeable difference: No clear TPU protective case. This was dropped because of limitations in the design process and with the supplier. FiiO concluded that they could not produce one for the M11 Pro that would meet their quality requirements. Not sure what to make of that considering the marginal differences in size: 0.5mm thicker and wider. Because I am not one to back down from a challenge, I squeezed the slightly bigger waste line of the M11 Pro in the M11's TPU case and although it does fit, sort of, I had to admit is was not the most secure fit either. Considering I did not like the look of it on the M11 to begin with, this was looking even worse and I happily abandoned my little experiment never to look back at it.

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    Accessories are the same with once again a 7H tempered glass screen protector already pre-installed, an SD card slot poky-thingamajig, some booklets, a USB charger cable and a coaxial adapter cable. Sweet and simple.

    Design
    As indicated the design is almost identical, except for a tiny increase in thickness and width that, at 0.5mm each, is so small it is quite challenging to capture in pictures. Another key change is the step back from two to only a single microSD card slot, a decision that came as a result of the issues the M11 had, requiring a reduction of speed of one of the slots (as I reported in my M11 review). This reduces the theoretical maximum storage of the M11 Pro to 2TB compared to 4TB with the M11.

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    Beyond these the M11 Pro is identical with the M11. It is the same bright and colourful 5.15" screen around the same angular body design with the same buttons and of course the 3.5mm single ended and 2.5mm + 4.4mm balanced out. So there is little else to say here that I did not already say in my review of the M11.

    Under the Hood
    Most of the changes are of course under the hood of the M11 Pro. FiiO kept the design around the Samsung Exynos 7872 CPU, which FiiO indicated will also be the case for the upcoming M15 and M15 Pro (including the same 5.15" screen). The main differences are found in the DAC and Amp used. Out are the AK4493EQ and in are dual AK4497EQ DACs, while the amp section has been replaced with a dual THX AAA-78 architecture. The THX amp is supposed to be a powerful, yet efficient one to result in a lower noise floor and less distortion. On paper the DAC/amp section should make the M11 Pro more natural sounding than the M11 and indeed that was what I found. In terms of power output though the M11 Pro is pretty similar to the M11, be it that the 3.5mm single ended out saw a boost from 255mW to 294mW at 16Ω, where the 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced out dropped a little from 480mW to 460mW at 16Ω. Internal memory has also been increased and is up to 64GB ROM of which 52GB is available to the user, more than double of the 25GB (out of 32GB) that was available with the M11.

    IMAGE_08.JPG

    Something worth noting here is that the M11 Pro is considerably more power hungry than the M11. While the battery has been increased to 4,370mAh from 3,800mAh, battery life has decreased significantly from 13 hours with the M11 to 9.5 hours with the M11 Pro. As a result the M11 Pro will once again become quite warm during use and I saw some concerned comments on that, but FiiO have indicated it is nothing to worry about. I wouldn't do a good job of reviewing were I not to test this myself at the risk of burning a cheek. So while cooking dinner one evening, I stuffed the M11 Pro in the back pocket of my jeans and wiggled my bum while chopping the veg. The result once dinner was prepared? A warm M11 Pro, but no rosy cheek. So I can only conclude that there is really nothing to worry about.

    GUI
    Here very little has changed from the M11 and the few things that have changed, were also added via firmware updates to the M11. So in this regard there is nothing to differentiate between the M11 Pro and the M11. The M11 Pro still has the super fast and smooth interface I loved so much with the M11. I did make sure FiiO did not sneak in any additional boosts to the Pro's performance and used both side-by-side simultaneously to test that. Start up time was exactly the same and apps launched with the same speed as well.

    One interesting addition FiiO has made since I reviewed the M11 is that there is now a 'Pure Music' mode available in the drop-down menu. This will take the M11/Pro out of Android mode and run only the FiiO Music player, meaning there are no other apps running in the background and you don't have to start up the FiiO Music player because upon starting up the M11/Pro it will automatically go there. This is a nice option to have for people who like the M11/Pro, but do not care for the Android environment and want to use it purely as a music player.

    IMAGE_09.png IMAGE_10.png

    The FiiO Music app is also constantly being updated with features that can be helpful, although the execution of them is not always flawless just yet. I quite liked the idea behind the featured that allowed the FiiO Music app to automatically search for album art and so I made the mistake of putting it on. I say "mistake" because what happened was my inner-OCD's worst nightmare. The app indeed started adding album art, but this seemed to be completely arbitrary and so my darling dearest Caro Emerald had her exquisite 'Acoustic Sessions' album defiled by having album art uploaded from the 'Karaoke Version'. Some of my favourite classical music albums took on a quilted appearance with various album art files being applied to tracks on the same album. Now every time I start up the M11 Pro my OCD gives off a panicked scream and hyperventilates for 10 minutes before I can use it.

    IMAGE_11.png

    Other features though work fine, like FiiO Link that allows you to control the M11 Pro from your mobile phone. While I would never use it myself, I know a lot of people really love this sort of feature. So I gave it a whirl nonetheless and actually got it to work! That says a lot about how well it works because I am a complete doofus and FiiO can now safely add the label "fool proof" after having me test it.

    Apps/Streaming
    Here I will refer to my M11 review because nothing has changed as far as I can see. The M11 Pro still runs on a custom version of Android 7.0 without proper Google Play store support, meaning that for some very popular apps, such as the Neutron player, alternative ways of installing and verification must be found. The M11 Pro also still comes standard with ES File Explorer installed. As I mentioned in my M11 review, this app might not be secure and has recently been removed from the Google Play store as a result of various problems. It might be good to look at an alternative instead. Beyond that the M11 Pro delivers the same versatility of the M11 and those apps that do not require Play store support run fast and smooth.

    Sound
    In terms of sound quality I feel the M11 Pro is a clear step up from the M11. The M11 Pro has a more natural sound, although in my opinion it still hints a little towards a brighter, more analytical signature, but it is clearly more natural and a little bit warmer than the M11. The M11 Pro presents a larger stage that is more airy, more stable and has a blacker background. This was especially noticeable with classical music where the layering and the image as a whole felt more mature. Instruments separated better and contrasted more clearly against the black background, the tonality was more distinct and the dynamics of the music were improved. This gives a more immersive feeling to the music and makes the Pro more musical (engaging) than the M11.

    End-to-end extension of the M11 Pro is better than the M11. The M11 seemed to have quite a rolled off bass and that has to some extent been improved with the M11 Pro. I still think it is not the most extended bass response. Treble extension is pretty good and this gives airiness to the stage, but here I think there is still a hint too much brightness. The treble is not the most natural and can give a slightly tinny result with some of my IEMs, like the Empire Ears Phantom. This is no doubt in part a tuning decision by FiiO and here I will put up a big bold disclaimer that I like a warmish natural tonality and a bit less emphasis on detail retrieval. For someone who prefers a natural tonality and likes to have details pushed forward a little more clearly, the M11 Pro might well offer a really good option. The mids are quite natural and I find that for instance with my Phantom the woodwinds come across a little less lush and thick than with my usual DAP, the Cowon Plenue 2. Notes are a little thinner, although far from anaemic and you still get a good sense of the instruments.

    Speaking of the Phantom. With the M11 I did get a little bit of noise when using them on high gain, but with the M11 Pro I am not noticing it. The M11 Pro therefore appears to be cleaner, although I do not have hyper-sensitive IEMs like the Campfire Andromeda to test if the M11 Pro is noiseless with those as well.

    Comparisons
    -Cowon Plenue 2-
    Because I already compared to the M11 above, I only really have one comparison to make here and that is with the Cowon Plenue 2. One of the reasons I was really interested in the M11 Pro is that it uses the same DAC as the Plenue 2, the AK4497, although the M11 Pro has two of them instead of a single one. I think this is also why several people have asked me about this comparison as well. It is interesting to see how well a new, but more affordable DAP stacks up against the senior with a premium price tag.

    In terms of tonality there is actually a difference, even though they use the same DAC. The Plenue 2 is slightly warmer and more realistic in its naturalness, whereas the M11 Pro pushes the details a bit more forward through a brighter, although still natural tonality. The Plenue 2 extends better at both ends and achieves a higher dynamic range, making music come more alive. I also find that the imaging is better and the overall feel of the image is more refined. Are there aspects where the M11 Pro pulls ahead? Yes, the M11 Pro presents a larger and more airy stage, which I really liked and appreciated especially with classical symphonies. The sound is also more clearly detailed, which although it is not my own personal priority, will no doubt be appreciated by many who enjoy being tickled by lots of details coming through. In all, the M11 Pro goes a long way compared to the Plenue 2 and brings its own strengths that for some people could give it an edge.

    Pair ups
    Having talked quite a lot about the sound in general terms, it is interesting to look more closely at specific pairings to see how they synergise.

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    -FiiO FH7 (FiiO LC-2.5D)-
    I previously reviewed FiiO's FH7 together with the LC-2.5D balanced aftermarket cable, so naturally I needed to try out their synergy with the M11 Pro. This pairing is really excellent and it is almost like they were made for each other... *wink* *wink* Clearly FiiO's own IEMs compliment their DAPs very well and using the red bass filters the result is clear, detailed and with a deliciously thick bass. It is a little on the bright side for my sensitivities, as I can be particularly treble sensitive, but it is very well balanced with lots of detail and tons of musicality. It is bright in the good sense, very even and not a hint of sibilance. So while it might be a little much for my delicate ears, those less sensitive will no doubt enjoy this pairing tremendously.

    -64 Audio Tia Trio (PlusSound Exo GPS, 2.5mm Bal)-
    The Trio offer a wonderful bass, as well as a wonderful treble for sensitive me, and this pairing was really nice. Still a little bit of a brightness similar, but less notable than with the FH7. With this pairing I loved going through my down-tempo EDM list such as Carbon Based Lifeforms and Astronaut Ape. 'Interloper' by Carbon Based Lifeforms was an album where I really felt that the Trio got the maximum benefit from the airy stage of the M11 Pro, which resulted in an almost ethereal treble complimented by a full, but not overwhelming bass. A really enjoyable pairing that felt similar to the FH7 pairing, be it a more mature version.

    -Empire Ears Phantom (Effect Audio Eros II 8W, 2.5mm Bal)-
    My "King of Timbre" paired quite well with the M11 Pro, reducing some of the warmth that characterise these IEMs and it made them a little less lush. Woodwinds lost some of their fullness and everything was a little less thick, which actually worked quite well. However, the M11 Pro seemed to highlight the Phantom's treble peak a little more than I am used to and I actually started to feel a little uncomfortable with it. Rather than their usual bite, it became a brightness that with some music got a little too much bite. Nothing too bad, but with some female vocals such as Caro Emerald and Aurora I felt it was brighter than I would like my Phantom to be.

    -Dita Fealty (4.4mm Bal)-
    This pairing was without a doubt my own personal favourite. The M11 Pro seemed to compliment the wide, letterbox stage of the Fealty and push it a little further than I am used to. They were also the first IEMs I tried because the Awesome plug allowed me to use the 4.4mm balanced out, and I was quite surprised. Listening to Paganini's Violin Concerto #4, I was impressed by the size of the stage. Indeed with all my classical music this pairing resulted in a very large and airy stage where I could really loose myself in the soundscape. I did notice that compared to the Plenue 2 there was a little less warmth, but it did not feel like anything was lacking.

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    Conclusions
    The FiiO M11 Pro is much as its "pro" designation suggests a step up from the M11. It retains the same form factor, be it marginally bigger, the same screen and Exynos 7872 CPU to maintain a responsive and smooth user interface, and tops it off with a higher end DAC and amp section. The result is a more refined sounding M11 that offers a natural and detailed signature. The absence of Google Play store support is still a main point of criticism and the battery life can be disappointing if you intend to use the screen a lot for certain apps. Overall I think the M11 Pro is a very good value for money DAP and worth considering over the M11 if sound quality is your priority.
      fokta, majo123, dsrk and 8 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. szore
      You didn't find the mids to be too forward? And the DAC implementation a bit ham-handed?
      szore, Dec 18, 2019
    3. Wyville
      Hi @szore I didn't think end-to-end extension was particularly strong and the bass gave off less warmth than I would like, so in that sense it might throw a bit more emphasis on the mids. I compared specifically to the Plenue 2 because it uses the same DAC and I feel the Plenue 2 performs better, but I intentionally try to describe rather than judge because I want readers to form their own opinion.
      Wyville, Dec 19, 2019
      fokta, szore, dsrk and 1 other person like this.
    4. dsrk
      Excellent review Erik as always. I wish you had an X7II to compare.
      dsrk, Dec 19, 2019
      Wyville likes this.
  2. Currawong
    Brings high-end sound under $1000
    Written by Currawong
    Published Jan 10, 2020
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent sound. Pretty good battery life. Supports streaming apps and can offline music on many of them. Both 4.4 and 2.5mm balanced included. Good bluetooth and digital transport.
    Cons - One fewer micro SD card slots than the M11. No plastic case (like the M11). No Google Play Store, so some apps wont run or can't be purchased. Minor issues with screen touch sensitivity near the edges.

    With the regular M11 taking the portable audiophile world by storm with its sound quality and features, the M11 Pro, with THX tech built in was a surprise too soon. However with the better DAC (AKM4497) and better amp (THX88) the penalty was a larger battery with worse overall battery life, and the loss of one of the two micro SD card slots. However, if sound quality is your priority, I reckon the M11 Pro brings true high-end portable sound in well under $1000. See my video for a full run-down of the device and my listening impressions.
    1. mwr2700
      Thanks for the excellent review Amos. I've had the M11 Pro for a little under two weeks now. It's my first portable dedicated music player and I've been enjoying the sound tremendously. Fortunately I haven't had issues with edge sensitivity that you pointed out and hopefully it doesn't develop into a problem.
      mwr2700, Jan 13, 2020
    2. Demo3
      You did not say anything about MQA?
      Demo3, Jan 14, 2020
    3. leviathan2210
      Great review ! It's gonna be my first DAP XD. Can barely wait for it to arrive
      leviathan2210, Jan 15, 2020
  3. DarKu
    FiiO M11 PRO Review – Standing Above the Rest
    Written by DarKu
    Published Dec 23, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Futuristic design, great material selection and attention to detail
    - Fastest response times of any DAP
    - Advanced GUI that is easy to use and navigate
    - Widest soundstage in a DAP, amazing depth and airiness
    - Great tonal balance across the board
    - Great Bluetooth codec support
    - Excellent micro-detail levels
    - Super clean and transparent sounding
    - Extended frequency-response
    - Noise-less headphone out, works great even with sensitive IEMs
    - Among the fastest transient response in a DAP
    - Great price to performance ratio!
    Cons - Still no Google Play Store support


    Without too much fanfare on 30 July of this year (2019), FiiO dropped the bomb and announced their latest and greatest M11 PRO DAP in a Facebook post. To this day, that one was the most commented post in FiiOs history and a clear message that people were genuinely excited about that one. Besides dual AK4497EQ flagship DAC chips, M11 PRO promised to be the world’s first DAP with dual THX-AAA-78 headphone amplifier modules. If you checked my latest reviews around here you probably know how much I love THX designs for their accuracy and honesty in delivering a clear and unaltered signal to every headphone. At the end of the day I am using daily a Benchmark HPA4 as my flagship desktop headphone amplifier and that says a lot about me and my tastes.

    To say that I was genuinely interested in hearing one for myself would be a big understatement, I contacted multiple times the local distributor, the manufacturer itself and literally begged for a listening session. It seems that demand for M11 PRO was much bigger than the production time, FiiO was unable to keep up with the rising demand but it seems that everything calmed down lately and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to test this one for a longer period of time.

    FiiO is not new to this game, they already developed the world’s fastest DAP, the M11 and have enough experience with THX headphone amp modules as they released the AM3D/C amp module for Q5, Q5S and X7 MKII that is based on THX circuitry. M11 PRO is an evolution of both M11 DAP and THX headphone amp modules and presents itself in a single, compact unit. I present to you the M11 PRO digital-audio-player.

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    Unboxing Experience

    M11 PRO comes in a thick double box as an extra protection measure. Opening it up, the DAP screen is covered by a big FiiO Smart Hi-Res Music Player sticker, the same was applied on M11 and if I remember correctly I’ve seen similar stickers on other brands. Underneath it a small metal pin is located; this one will open the MicroSD card slot. In a smaller box you will find a USB Type-C cable and a 3.5mm to coaxial adapter cable. In a bigger box you’ll find all the paperwork like the user manual, a quick start guide and some notes on using Bluetooth enabled devices. I noticed that FiiO didn’t include a clear case with M11 PRO, that was included in the M11 box. According to FiiO, the clear case for M11 PRO was difficult to manufacture, their quality control level was not met and they just abandoned the idea of making one. However, some manufacturers moved quickly and released their own cases for the M11 Pro. DD HiFi released their C-M11 Pro leather case and if you care dearly about your investment, then I strongly recommend getting one. If you are against leather products, you can opt for a clear TPU case for it that can be found all over Ebay. I hope FiiO will release a case for it too, SK-M11 was quite nice and a SK-M11 Pro would heal the wounds of that clear case fiasco.

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    Design & Build Quality

    I was already impressed by M11 so I am having the same feelings about M11 PRO. It is a beautiful machined aluminum device, it looks impressive and has that high-end feel to it. It has huge glass sheets on the front and back, very much in line with newest smartphone trends, I mean my phone also has glass on the back. M11 PRO has again that fiber glass look on the back and those small things like Hi-Res Audio, Hi-Res Audio Wireless, THX and AAA-78 laser engraved logos underneath the glass are adding a touch of proudness and they really deserve to be about this one. It’s a unique DAP in every single way. It feels great in the hand and it is quite balanced too. Compared to M11 it is just by 1mm thicker to accommodate a bigger battery inside, it has a golden PRO logo on its left side and has only a single MicroSD card slot instead of two slots on M11, more about this decision in a minute.

    As with M11, M11 PRO has great tolerance numbers and nothing is wobbling around, all the buttons have a firm press, the golden volume wheel is turning smoothly, it doesn’t stick out and will not turn itself in a jeans pocket, I already tested that.

    I like how it looks and I like how it feels in the hand, the build quality is really top notch and it left a great first impression on me.

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    Buttons & Layout

    FiiO didn’t ruin this one with buttons on every side (do you still remember first generation X7 and its buttons? I still have bad dreams about those) and you will find most of them on its left side. There’s a Play/Pause, Previous and Next track buttons and a volume wheel. On top is your standby/On/Off button and on the bottom, you will find a trio of headphone outputs: a normal 3.5mm single ended output and two balanced outputs coming in 2.5mm and 4.4mm flavors. The USB Type-C works for data transfer, for charging or for using it as an external DAC for your PC/MAC or even for your OTG enabled smartphone.

    The biggest drawback of M11 PRO compared to M11 was the decision to drop the second MicroSD card slot. FiiO clearly stated that this SoC is not working perfectly with 2 MicroSD cards and decided to drop one of them. On the plus side, M11 PRO supports the biggest capacity MicroSD cards and in time it will support even newer generation of cards up to 2TB in size.

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    Display

    FiiO used the same big 5.15” IPS multi-touch display that is almost bezel-less and very pretty to look at. Gone are those ugly chins and all that is left is a colorful and high-quality display. Contrast is quite good, blacks and whites are nice, so are those nice viewing angles. Image quality is nice thanks to that high pixel count and resolution. It is basically the same screen with the same 18:9 aspect ratio that M11 DAP has. Due to a high PPI, the final image is crisp and my cover albums are looking vivid and crystal clear.

    I think a DAP doesn’t need a bigger display than this, I want its battery to feed that digital and analog circuitry, not a huge display size and pixel count. For gaming and Youtube needs I will always use my smartphone and M11 PRO will just remain for music listening only.

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    Battery

    FiiO went with a bigger battery on this one. This is the sole reason it is thicker by about 1mm compared to the regular M11. Battery capacity increased from 3800 mAh to 4370 mAh but the actual battery life dropped from 13 to 9.5 hours on the 3.5mm jack because two AK4497 DAC chips and those THX-78 amp modules are using much more battery power compared to the ones inside the regular M11. With M11 PRO you are sacrificing a bit of battery life in exchange for higher quality sonics.

    Do you still remember that M11 can go into deep sleep mode for 50 frickin’ days? M11 PRO by comparison goes lullaby for 55 days! Previous DAPs by FiiO slept much less than that so again we have a sleeping champ right here. Forgot your M11 PRO DAP for a month in your backpack? Wake it up and it will still have more than 40% battery left for few albums.

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    Under the hood of M11 PRO

    It rocks the same fast and reliable 6-core Exynos 7872 CPU that currently is the fastest one in any DAP at any price. RAM memory remained at 3 Gb and the built-in ROM memory increased from 32 Gb to 64 Gb so even without a MicroSD card you can store a decent amount of music. FiiO went with a lightweight and custom Android OS based on version 7.0

    M11 PRO doesn’t support Google Play Store but has an Applications bubble, by accessing it you can download all your music streaming services including other apps like Bandcamp and SoundCloud. FiiO also offers a possibility to install any other 3-rd party apps market like APKPure or CoolApk from where you can install almost any 3-rd party app like Youtube, games and so on.

    I have already downloaded my usual stuff like Roon, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify and Deezer, all of them are launching fast without hiccups. Some of those apps that support offline play will work perfectly fine with it, I tested Tidal and I can listen to my downloaded content.

    From dual AK4493EQ DAC chips on M11, FiiO went straight to the top by choosing a dual AK4497EQ setup, that on paper will offer a much better signal-to-noise ratio, dynamic range and a lower THD. To properly implement those two, some changes needed to be made so FiiO used an independent volume control chip and dual crystal oscillators to squeeze the best out of those. M11 by comparison doesn’t have them and when critically analyzing both, the difference becomes very clear.

    Going forward to the analog stage, FiiO went again with a top-of-the-line solution that will not bottleneck its DAC performance, the THX AAA-78 modules inside have absolutely impressive specs and leaving the DAC doing its job without altering that analog signal. Power wise, M11 PRO is slightly more powerful on the single ended output, it offers 200mW into 32 Ω and 550mW in the same load on both balanced outputs.

    Adding all those improvements on the digital and analog side resulted in a much lower total-harmonic-distortion, M11 PRO has it 3.5 times lower on the 3.5mm jack and 2 times lower on balanced jacks compared to M11. Noise floor almost halved compared to M11 for an absolutely pitch-black background.

    FiiO incorporated a full-MQA decoder, it unfolds MQA files in 8X mode, however MQA files as of right now are supported only in FiiO Music app, meaning you will need to store all those MQA files on your card or internal memory. Tidal Hi-Fi will stream those MQA files but the full MQA unfold process doesn’t work with Tidal as of right now. FiiO stated that future firmware updates will be released to support full-MQA decoding on other third-party apps. I am using a full MQA equipped DAC at home and if you ask me, full-blown Hi-Res files are sounding a bit better to me and DSD files are sounding clearly better, so MQA is not that important, at least for me.

    Wireless capabilities remained the same, M11 PRO supports 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands, plus all those fancy Bluetooth codecs. It can still work as a Bluetooth sender or receiver, as a sender (say to a wireless headphone) it can output SBC, AptX, AptX-HD, LDAC and HWA and as a receiver (receiving data from a smartphone for example) it accepts SBC and LDAC. Bluetooth is still at version 4.2 and not the latest 5.0, but with a pair of Sennheiser Momentum 3 and FiiO EH3NC I didn’t lose a beat while listening to music on the go. It paired amazing even with my KEF LS50W speakers and with few TWS earbuds the signal always remained strong and stable.

    [​IMG]

    Graphical User Interface (GUI)

    I already updated to the latest FW 1.0.1 and so far in a 2-week period it didn’t crash on me. In Android Mode it behaves like a typical Android device. Switching to Pure Music mode all apps will be automatically stopped, all background processes too and only FiiO Music app will remain open. This app was already updated multiple times and every singe time new features were added to it. I particularly like WiFi music transfer and FiiO Link which will let you control the M11 PRO (that sits in your pocket connected to some headphones) from the screen of your phone.

    As with M11 and their previous DAPs, FiiO implemented a lot of shortcuts, lots of swipes in different directions will access some menus, will change its volume or other things, I recommend checking the Quick Start Guide that can be accessed from Technical Support bubble if you want to learn all of them. From there you can also check if a new firmware was released and for convenience, I recommended updating it via OTA (Over The Air).

    On FW 1.0.1 GUI is polished and moves fast, I didn’t encounter stutters or slowdowns even when playing 32 bit Hi-Res files or DSD content. Streaming Hi-Res from Tidal Hi-Fi and then sending all that to a Bluetooth headphone is super simple and worked as a charm too, as much as I tried slowing it down, it didn’t happen so I have no complaints here.

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    Sound Performance

    I. Connected to sensitive IEMs

    That super low THD and super low noise floor made a huge difference on M11 PRO. Every IEM I tested it with as FiiO FH7, FA7, Simgot EN700 PRO and many other lower tiered ones sounded ultra-crisp and grain-free. Background noise was nowhere to be spotted, just a pitch-black background even on high-gain with a maxed-out volume on both single ended and balanced headphone outputs! M11 in this regard was also silent, but not dead-silent like the newer one.

    In terms of volume I never passed the 80 volume position out of 120 even on the 3.5mm jack on low gain with multi-driver IEMs. On the balanced jacks I cannot go higher than 65 volume position on low gain with the most inefficient IEMs. Headroom was huge and M11 PRO offered an incredible driver control. On some particular music the former M11 couldn’t offer a faster pace, an extended treble area and an ultimate diaphragm control. M11 PRO by comparison sounded like a really grown-up and serious device. Music is not only very detailed, crisp and precise, but also very tight, musical and engaging. Since all those IEMs don’t need that much power but an ultimate driver control to shoo away muddiness, M11 PRO sounded a lot like a stack of Topping D70 or Aune S6 PRO followed by a SMSL SP200 desktop headphone amp, I’m serious, M11 PRO sounds almost indistinguishable from a hi-fi desktop rig.

    M11 had small quirks like a smoother than usual treble response and not the best slam and impact. M11 PRO is very different in this regard and will sound smooth only when the track is asking for this, otherwise it will be nimble, fast, articulated, with a good treble extension, it’s almost unreal that I am listening to a portable device.

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    II. Connected to portable over-ear and on-ear headphones

    You probably don’t use those anymore, but I’m old-school and I still love my portable and wired headphones. Especially Momentum range as Momentum 2 and 3 from Sennheiser, I recently included Erzetich Thalia in this section too, amazing headphones that sound great even from lower tier sources.

    Some of you probably heard the Momentums by now and know that they have a “not quite my tempo” sound to them that is lean, slow, maybe even boring from low powered devices. M11 sounded quite fine with them and it didn’t really change them into something else. On M11 PRO on the other hand, I don’t really know what is to blame: that dual AK4497 setup, or those double crystal clocks or maybe those sexy THX modules, but Momentums opened-up and awoken from their deep sleep. They started sounding jumpy on me, fast and articulated, they sound like that mostly on desktop setups and yet here I am with M11 PRO in my hand looking surprised at it. Maybe everything as a whole made a bigger difference than all those things separately. M11 PRO improved Momentum 2 and 3 and made them faster, snappier and made them show more treble information.

    Driver control was definitely among the best in a portable device, dynamics kicked-in in full-force and listening to some faster paced music a thought never left my mind: this sounds nor rushed, nor dragged, just right my tempo .

    Volume wise, I never gone past 105 volume on the 3.5mm single ended output, even with harder to drive Erzetich Thalia, so again headroom was plenty enough even for -15 DR tracks.

    Portable headphones, on-ears or over-ears, multi-driver IEMs and everything in between sounded as connected to a big, bad-ass desktop setup, so again, in my opinion M11 PRO sounds outstanding and above the rest.

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    III. Connected to desktop low sensitivity headphones

    First of all, M11 PRO wasn’t really made for desktop headphones but that doesn’t mean I can’t test few of them and I’m pretty sure this will be the funniest part of this review.

    Instead of going with some simple dynamic desktop headphones, I thought: Hey, I should test some of the biggest headphones with the biggest ear-cups and drivers, so I plugged a pair of Erzetich Phobos into the single ended 3.5mm jack. This is a planar-magnetic headphone that eats current for breakfast, at only 45 Ohms and having a 106mm driver assembly, it needs some serious amperes to be driven even at normal listening levels. At 110 out of 120 volume levels, I am smiling and nodding my head, even on the 3.5mm jack M11 PRO was more than capable of driving them almost to their fullest. I said almost because it had everything from the home desktop rig except for that lightning fast transient response and control that only a wall-powered desktop headphone amp can provide. Anything else, like details, transparency, dynamics were pretty much there, even frequency extremes were very present and clean without a hint of dryness.

    Moving on to another planar-magnetic headphone – Quad Era-1, those worked even better, at 105 volume they sounded much closer to my desktop setup and everything just clicked into place, dynamics were definitely better this time around and transient response as well. I am going to search for a 4-pin XLR female to 4.4mm Pentaconn male adapter so I could test all my desktop headphones on the 4.4mm balanced out of M11 PRO but I presume everything will sound even better and much closer to a reference desktop system.

    Switching to Hifiman Arya it was clear that 3.5mm jack can’t provide enough power and those sounded fine but limited in terms of dynamics, those were right but not explosive as I like them to be, Arya under-performed on it.

    Connecting a pair of HD660S from Sennheiser was an easy task for it since at about 100 and up to 105 volume those already sounded too loud even for my tastes. HD660S had enough headroom and sounded really holographic and open wide, almost indistinguishable from a desktop reference setup.

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    IV. Connected to Wireless headphones and speakers

    My KEF LS50W worked wonderfully with it, I was streaming Tidal Hi-Res content from M11 PRO to LS50W at few meters away, even from another room BT connection always remained stable and strong. No complains here as my speakers sounded exactly how I know them.

    Moving on to the EH3NC Wireless headphones by FiiO, that was an excellent pairing since in FiiO Music app there is a feature that is called Bluetooth Device Control, if you go there you will be unleashing the full potential of EH3NC and a lot of settings can be synced wirelessly to them as EQ, Power Off timers, battery and codec indicators and other things. EH3NC had a stable connection too, when I went outside for a 2-hour walk with M11 PRO in my pocket I never lost a beat with EH3NC and all I heard was just a stable and worry-free performance.

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    V. Soundstage size & Depth

    I can’t hold this anymore so I will just mention from the start that up to this moment, M11 PRO presented for me the widest soundstage size I’ve heard in a DAP. M11 and X7 MKII (especially with AM5, AM3B and with AM3C) sounded quite open and wide but not on the same level with M11 PRO.

    This big change was felt mostly with high quality IEMs and with desktop headphones. In this regard M11 PRO sounds really like a desktop DAC attached to a desktop THX amp, it sounds wide spread and open. Very much so, that some might find that distracting at times. It grabs my attention a lot and while listening to M11 PRO I can’t multitask in front of a computer, that air flying around is so easily spotted, as all musical notes are wrapped in bigger air bubbles and I feel like I’m drawn to them wondering between each and every note. M11 PRO is against forwardness, muddiness, up-front presentations and chooses to somehow unfold everything for the listener. I personally like this effect but I know few persons that don’t, so it really depends on the listener.

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    VI. Transient Response

    I don’t want to sound overly positive with this one but if you ever heard a THX headphone amplifier (here’s a comparison between 3 desktop THX amps) you probably know that those are all about fast transients, about slam and impact and M11 PRO is really not that different.

    The second biggest change to the regular M11 is actually the speed, impact or transients as I call them. M11 PRO is all about acceleration, speed, it wants to slam your eardrums like drumsticks onto your brain. If M11 was a bit laid back, calm, smooth and relaxed, M11 PRO is all about nerve, it can have an aggressive character (if the track is asking for it), it opted for a faster decay in detriment of a longer one.

    When I think about it, M11 will be smooth sounding most of the times, even with faster paced or aggressive music. M11 PRO on the other hand can be smooth and gentle too, but also aggressive and mean if the track is like that, the latter one works with a wider variety of music and M11 is not.

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    VII. Detail Retrieval & Transparency

    This is where I felt another improvement compared to the regular M11. I spotted additional micro-details not only in top-quality recordings but even with my older rock records I can spot an additional layer of information, there is just a bit more to hear and feel. I can walk easier between those notes with M11 PRO and I feel that with M11 there are more bumps down the road. M11 PRO is transparent sounding and offers and impressive level of detail retrieval. If am omitting the power limitations of M11 PRO compared to a desktop setup, it sounds like a grown up and serious DAC. It reminds me a lot about the DAC section of Aune S6 PRO and of Topping D70 - both are amazing units at their price points. Higher tiered DAC chips, those THX modules and higher quality crystal clocks surely helped a lot and I’m glad that M11 PRO can stand on its ground and be compared to desktop DAC units without a hitch.

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    VIII. Frequency Response

    FiiO achieved a good tonal balance on this one by marring a musical digital-to-analog converter with a super precise and revealing headphone amp. By doing that they actually solved the limited frequency extremes of the regular M11.

    As a result, the biggest improvements on M11 PRO are the sub-bass and the upper treble region where everything is just tighter and better defined. M11 PRO has a really good sub-bass section and it can reveal information even down to 20 Hz. Listening to The Prodigy – Invisible Sun at the 0:41 mark the bass goes really low, it rumbled the drivers of FH7 and ERA-1 and that didn’t happen on normal M11. It goes deep, has a good sustain and slams quite well for such a small device. It is never overdone and doesn’t steal the show, this is still not bass-head material. This is a reference sound and as such M11 PRO is quite neutral from bottom to the very top. Mid-bass is very well defined, very present, quite pleasant and has an analogue-ish presentation. What I really liked about it, is that bass information presents itself as clean, layered and not as a super warm, boomy or overdone.

    That toxic AKM midrange is still there and still has that up-lifting vibe to it. Is sounds full-bodied and maybe by a hair warmer than my reference setup. The only part of FR where I feel there is a longer decay is the midrange area. M11 PRO chooses to tickle my years with a soul-grabbing performance and everything from voices, pipes, strings and piano has a natural texture to them. I can feel those notes as carrying more air and more weight and sincerely I kind of like it this way as midrange is my favorite frequency area.

    Treble was probably improved the most compared to regular M11 as I hear a much better outline of those hi-hats and a much clearer drum-pedal. On M11 those notes were softer and much shorter somehow and on M11 PRO you can feel their start and their end. I can easier analyze my music on M11 PRO and be confident that I am losing close to nothing on it as it has a much wider frequency response and a better control of every note.

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    Comparisons

    My whole review reads like a big comparison between M11 and M11 PRO so I will just summarize everything in a smaller chapter.

    FiiO M11 ($449.00) VS FiiO M11 PRO ($649.99)

    I will skip all the specs, features and so on as I already mentioned them before and will just go directly to the sound comparisons.

    M11 is an amazing DAP and at that price point has little to no competition at all. It sounds great but sometimes can sound smoother, leaner and not that engaging. In terms of transient response M11 is Okay but not impressive, it will not slam a lot and will not deliver a quicker presentation. Double-drums are sounding like a single-drum setup, cymbals don’t have sustain and will not tickle your ears. M11 loses a bit of treble and sub-bass information. If you listen to higher quality recordings it becomes much more apparent and distracting at times. Bass is decently layered and goes pretty low too, but will never rumble and will never offer some goose-bumps.

    M11 PRO sounds like an improved M11 in every single way. First of all, it is faster in its presentation, so everything will be delivered in an instant, it kicks and slams a lot better. Bass punch is back and will offer goose-bump inducing moments, it is very pleasing to hear an additional bass layer and more information down there. It just goes lower, has a better sustain and impresses a lot more.

    Midrange is the only area where I felt that both devices are sounding very alike and both have a warm-ish tint to them, musical somehow, they carry more air and everything feels weightier and full-bodied. I love this part a lot on both devices. Treble is a BIG step forward on M11 PRO, as it’s more extended and even past 16 kHz it will show additional details (if you can pick them). Combine a faster pace with an extended treble area and it is clear that a double-drum will sound like an actual double-drum setup, cymbals crashes have the right amount of texture without becoming bothersome and bright. M11 PRO just offers me more and I see it as a complete package. I am very confident with it and I can rely on its performance every time I press play.

    The biggest question: Are those extra $200 worth it? You should ask that yourself but to me it is worth every single penny. If you look at competing devices, $649.99 will offer you an entry level device or maximum a midrange device with a mediocre performance.

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    Conclusions

    M11 PRO looks, performs and sounds like a high-end DAP to me. It has the fastest CPU at the moment of any DAP, has a beautiful machined aluminum body and some impressive specs to boot that only FiiO implemented so far. I’m glad that FiiO had the guts and courage to try new things as implementing those THX modules and I hope their extra-work will be repaid back. It’s time for FiiO to be a trendsetter and it’s time for others to observe how a DAP should move, sound and cost.

    I know FiiO is really proud about this one as they just decided to make a limited run of M11 PRO Stainless Steel of just 1500 units worldwide so act fast if you want to reserve one for yourself.

    Oh, one more thing, DAP days are not over yet, not yet!

    PROS:
    • Futuristic design, great material selection and attention to detail
    • Fastest response times of any DAP
    • Advanced GUI that is easy to use and navigate
    • Widest soundstage in a DAP, amazing depth and airiness
    • Great tonal balance across the board
    • Great Bluetooth codec support
    • Excellent micro-detail levels
    • Super clean and transparent sounding
    • Extended frequency-response
    • Noise-less headphone out, works great even with sensitive IEMs
    • Among the fastest transient response in a DAP
    • Great price to performance ratio!
    CONS:
    • Still no Google Play Store support
    ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT:
    • Sources: Xiaomi Mi9T Pro, Corsair One i160
    • DACs: Matrix Audio Element X, KECES S3, Burson Conductor 3
    • DAPs: FiiO M11 PRO, M11, M5, Shanling Q1
    • Headphone amps: Benchmark HPA4, Kinki Studio THR-1
    • IEMs: FiiO FH7, FA7, Simgot EN700 Pro & others
    • True Wireless earphones Creative Outlier Air, Hifiman TWS600
    • Wireless headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless, FiiO EH3NC
    • Portable headphones: Sennheier Momentum 2, Erzetich Thalia
    • Full-sized headphones: Erzetich Phobos, Hifiman Arya, Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S
    • Loudspeakers: KEF LS50W
    • Interconnects: QED Reference XLR, Aune AL3 XLR
    • Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x2)
    • Balanced Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC 400, KECES BP-600
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    Overall score 95/100
      sontung, audiobean and Cat Music like this.
    1. Cat Music
      It would be interesting to try the ibasso dx220 with amp8, to know the difference between both Daps in sound quality, thanks!
      Cat Music, Dec 24, 2019