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  1. gLer
    Fiio M11: A Modern Marvel
    Written by gLer
    Published May 21, 2019 at 6:15 PM
    5.0/5,
    Pros - > Best value of any current daps; exceptionally powerful hardware for a smooth, responsive user experience; premium packaging, build quality and industrial design; dual balanced dacs and amps, including 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs, deliver an accurate, resolving and dynamic sound with enough juice to drive full size high-impedance headphones and finesse to power sensitive IEMs without any background noise; dual band Wi-Fi, bi-directional hi-res Bluetooth and Airplay, with support for wireless file transfer and OTA updates; ample capacity with dual card slots and 32GB onboard storage.
    Cons - > No Google Play support could limit future versatility; some reported compatibility issues with dual card slots; FiiO Music is basic at best; no gyroscope (come on, I'm trying here).
    When FiiO first teased a new DAP in the lead-up to their ‘Spring Launch’ event in March this year, it seemed as if we were about to witness the world’s first submergible music player with phone functionality and some sort of otherworldly power source.

    FiiO_M11_teaser.jpg

    As it turned out, the DAP in question – the FiiO M11 – wasn’t quite all that, but in a market split between inexpensive barebones music players and a number of increasingly pricey, premium devices, it somehow still managed to be different enough and affordable enough to make many people rethink the meaning of value.

    My DAP Journey

    This review is intentionally going to be a little different to your run-of-the-mill product review. There are already a few of those on the M11 online, and @audiophilefan's excellently comprehensive review is a great starting point if you’re mainly interested in the nuts-and-bolts. You can also get the official marketing fluff and specs directly from www.fiio.com/M11.

    Instead this review is written from a user’s perspective – my perspective – based on my own DAP journey and the decisions that lead me to the M11 after many years of denying the need for a dedicated music player in the first place. If that doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip over this section.

    For the last two years I’ve been happily using Cayin’s excellent entry-level N3, the first DAP I bought having previously been mostly satisfied with cheap IEMs and my iPhone. However, like many iPhone users who’ve come around to the sonic benefits of better audio gear and, importantly, better (lossless) audio files, I found my options with Apple’s hardware quite limited. Apple’s insistence on doing away with physical cables was another nail in the iPhone’s coffin, at least as a serious music player, and so I hesitantly dipped my toes into the DAP market.

    Fast forward two years, and my immersion in higher-end head-fi started piquing my interest in mobile audio quality, and while the $150 N3 paired with a cheaply delicious pair of $15 Rock Zircon IEMs was a whole lot of goodness for the price, it just wasn’t cutting it when I switched back to my desktop gear.

    At about the same time, FiiO was coming out with a new family of DAPs (the M-series), and a new range of advanced multi-BA and hybrid IEMs to match, all priced not too far from what I still considered very good value for a part-time mobile rig. With its balanced output, touch screen, high-res Bluetooth support and customised Android OS, the M9 – at double the original cost of the N3 – looked to be exactly what I wanted from the ‘next step up’ in DAP technology. Paired with the FH5 IEMs, it seemed like an ideal package that, for $500, would give me the quality I wanted without going overboard.

    For a short while at least, it was. After all, I mainly used my mobile rig to occasionally listen to music around the house, and for travel (for business and holidays). For everything else I had far better (and far more expensive) desktop gear. But the M9 started to change how I viewed mobile audio. With on board Wi-Fi, suddenly I was potentially able to disconnect from the desktop and listen to my main music library from anywhere. As a Tidal user I was also able to stream lossless music on the go, without having to piggyback off my phone. I found myself using the mobile rig more and more; the quality was there to the point that I didn’t miss my desktop gear as much, and the convenience factor was palpable.

    It was almost the perfect setup – almost. For all its potential, the M9 fell disappointingly short in some very important areas. Equipped with an underpowered smartwatch CPU and barely a gigabyte of RAM, the UI was slow if not sluggish, available Android apps were limited to a very short whitelist, and the single-band Wi-Fi was too weak to survive moving more than a room or two away from the router. It was still an excellent standalone player for local music files, but then so was the N3. I wanted – and now needed – more than it gave me.

    Which is why I was so excited when I saw that first teaser back in March, and even more so when FiiO finally took the covers off the M11, barely two months after the M9 showed up at my door.

    M11_unboxing_01.jpg

    What You Get

    If you read through my journey above, thank you. I think it’s important to understand what I was looking for in a DAP, and how those needs changed, because it says a lot about what I personally found valuable and necessary. If you didn’t, that’s fine too. Either way, let’s get straight to the point: the FiiO M11 is probably the most-feature packed DAP you can buy for less than $500 today, and will likely stay that way for what remains of 2019, maybe even longer.

    If that sounds like a bold statement, consider the shopping list of hardware features that come standard:

    • A pair of AK4493EQ dacs configured in a balanced array along with separate amps for each channel, but also used concurrently to improve single-ended playback.
    • A 6-core Samsung Exynos 7872 CPU with 3GB RAM, giving you a previously unseen level of raw performance in a music player.
    • A cinematic 5.15-inch bezel-less IPS touchscreen with a movie-friendly 1440x720 display resolution.
    • A choice of three headphone outputs, including 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced options, and a 3.5mm single-ended output that doubles as a digital SPDIF source for external dacs.
    • Dual MicroSD sim-type slots with support for next-generation 2TB cards for a total of 4TB of additional storage over and above 32GB of included internal storage.
    • Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi with a larger antenna array for improved range and connection stability – at least compared to smaller DAPs like the M9.
    M11_unboxing_03.jpg

    Out of the box, the M11 is both substantial and robust, if a little thick compared to the marvel of modern slimline smartphones. That’s understandable given the bulky digital audio and amplification components stuffed inside, but despite the weight it feels well balanced and reassuringly angular in hand. With glass on both front and rear panels, it’s understandable that FiiO saw fit to fit a clear silicone cover and tempered glass screen protector as standard, though I immediately put mine into a leather-bound sleeve ‘borrowed’ from a portable hard drive to give it more protection against accidental knocks.

    M11_unboxing_10.jpg

    M11_unboxing_11.jpg

    M11_unboxing_13.jpg

    Also included and probably worth a mention is the USB-C cable for fast charging, file transfer (unfortunately limited to USB 2.0), and digital audio out, and a 3.5mm to SPDIF adapter. The M11 doubles as a balanced dac for your PC, Mac or phone with 32-bit 384KHz support, or as a digital coax source, but since I won’t be using it for either, I didn’t test this functionality.

    On the software front, the M11 sports a highly-customised version of Android 7 Nougat that allows for multitasking and does away with whitelisting to give you access to thousands of potentially useful apps.

    Due to licensing issues more to do with Google than FiiO, the M11 is not Google Android-certified and therefore doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store for the full-blown Android experience. On the one hand this limits your choices of apps that are only available on the Google Play Store and require Google Play services to run properly, but on the other it makes for a more streamlined user experience with less clutter and background processes eating up valuable CPU cycles.

    Whether or not the lack of Google Play is detrimental to your experience of the M11 largely depends on what you want from a DAP. From a hardware perspective it has all the raw power you’ll need from today’s and future apps, but could be hamstrung if those apps are tethered exclusively to the Play Store.

    From my perspective, it effortlessly supports all the current streaming apps – including Tidal with offline functionality – and even more importantly supports apps like Plex and Netflix that allow me to make full use of my personal high-res audio library and gives me access to high-res video streaming from the same device, anywhere in the world.

    Couple all that with a doubling of the balanced power output of the M9, and the M11 gives you all of this with some of the meanest audio capabilities ever seen at this price point, not only with IEMs but also with full-size desktop headphones and LDAC-capable Hi-Res Wireless headphones and IEMs as well.

    Other software highlights include FiiO Link, which lets you control the M11 with your phone via Bluetooth (or your phone via the M11, though I’m not quite sure why you’d want to do this). FiiO Link only works with the FiiO Music app, and at the time of this writing is only available for Android devices, so again it’s not something I personally tested.

    That said, the Cayin N3 had similar functionality, and aside from the initial novelty value, I didn’t see the point of connecting my phone to the DAP when the whole point of the DAP was to untether from the phone.

    Ready Player One

    With such a vast smorgasbord of features (I just touched on the big ones above), you’d be excused for thinking the M11 is much more than your average music player. Still, there are many people that are interested in a DAP for one reason only – music playback. If you’re one of those people you might want to skim over this next section, or jump straight to the next one, where I’ll specifically talk about sound quality.

    One of the first indications of the processing power and software agility of a modern DAP is bootup time. Whereas my first impression of the M9 was somewhat clouded by the laborious (40 second-plus) boot sequence, the M11 is ready to use in less than 10 seconds, from power on to playback. By comparison that’s faster than my iPhone 7, which has a more powerful processor, and vindicates the first reason I switched from the M9 to the M11: to get performance parity with my smartphone.

    M11_unboxing_15.jpg

    Before you start using the DAP you get to choose your preferred language (unlike some very expensive DAPs that limit your language choice to the sales region – I’m looking at you Lotoo and Sony). You can then choose whether you want to use the traditional Android button-based navigation bar or a series of smart gestures (I chose the latter), complete with a short interactive tutorial on which gestures do what.

    As a side note, whereas the M9 was my first-ever Android device, the M11 is the first I’ve used extensively, to the point where I now miss some of the smart gestures used to navigate around the M11’s UI. No amount of upward swipes on the iPhone will take me to the home screen, and side-swiping my iPhone doesn’t take me back a step – very disappointing!

    launcher-NovaLauncher-05222019221312.png launcher-NovaLauncher-05222019221318.png

    Once you’re up and running, the M11 gives you an initial selection of three apps (FiiO Music, ES Explorer and Google Chrome) in a dock-like array, with a status bar at the top of the screen and smaller icons for indicators such as volume level, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth status, battery level and the current time.

    Depending on your settings, you’ll also have a larger digital clock showing time and date on the main screen. A side-swipe or press of the middle dock icon reveals a second page with the rest of the preloaded apps, which in my case (my M11 was imported directly from China) contained repeats of the dock apps and a few Asian music streaming services.

    What you won’t see is the very different array of icons, wallpaper and colourful apps in the screenshots above and below, because almost as soon as I fired up the M11, I began customising it to my liking.

    Without Google Play, there are two ways to load apps onto the M11: sideload them by downloading the .apk files from various sources (direct from FiiO or from apk resource websites like apkpure.com), and by using third-party app stores like Amazon, Aurora and APKPure. With the latest iteration (1.0.4) of the M11 firmware, FiiO have also provided their own app store ‘app’ called FiiO Applications, although for now this is limited to a few streaming services like Tidal and other apps you’re better off sourcing elsewhere.

    M11Scr_21.png M11Scr_14.png

    Speaking of firmware, the M11 makes full use of its Wi-Fi capabilities for ‘over the air’ (OTA) downloads. A popup notification lets you know when a new firmware version is available, and a few clicks gets the download process underway. In my experience this is seamless and relatively fast, although a weak Wi-Fi signal or slow Internet access could stall the upgrade process and make you start from scratch. Best be prepared to leave your M11 in a strong signal area and enjoy some coffee and biscuits in the 20 minutes you have to wait for the update to complete. Annoyingly, the M11 won’t update to the latest firmware in one step, but instead forces you to upgrade to every next version until you’re current. I was three versions behind, so do the math.

    But again I digress. The first thing I changed was the launcher. A fellow forum member and M11 user suggested to try Nova Launcher from the Aurora store, and sure enough, it noticeably improved how I was able to configure and use the M11. Not only could I select the layout of icons, I was also able to change the icons of individual apps that weren’t to my liking, and hide apps I couldn’t uninstall but didn’t need (like ES Explorer).

    M11Scr_22.png M11Scr_23.png

    Finding and loading new apps was a simple process, with Tidal, Plex, Netflix, Solid Explorer and TuneIn Radio quickly joining the list of pre-installed apps. I then spent several days finding, testing and discarding numerous music apps, looking for an alternative to FiiO Music (more on that later). Currently Poweramp is the best of the rest, despite some reservations on its ability to make the most of the M11’s advanced audio hardware (again, more on that later).

    I’ve always been very big on UI cohesiveness, simplicity and cleanliness, and in my experience, stock Android isn’t quite as polished or consistent as iOS. A few clicks and switches in Nova, and I quickly got the M11 looking and working just the way I wanted.

    Sound impressions

    The M11 is first and foremost a music player. From the precision-machined volume dial, the play/skip buttons, array of output options, and fatter-than-a-smartphone heft, you’re unlikely going to mistake it for anything else. While it doesn’t ship with a music-only mode like its predecessors (the FiiO X5 Mk III and FiiO X7 Mk II), FiiO Music is your first-choice app.

    Not only that, the M11 has very obviously been musically upgraded from its current and previous-generation siblings, both in hardware and software. With a far more powerful processor and more onboard RAM than all the X-series DAPs (including the X7 flagship), FiiO Music is quicker to load, smoother to run, and visibly nimbler. Inserting an mSD card with more than 100 lossless albums (many of them high-res rips), the M11 scanned and populated the FiiO Music library in minutes. I could even switch apps and surf the web or play a trailer in Netflix while this was happening, and it didn’t skip a beat or slow down at any point.

    Once loaded, navigating the various categories in FiiO Music – tracks, artists, albums, genres, folders – is almost instantaneous, as is scrolling through long lists of songs. One click, and the chosen track begins to play without pause, clicks or skips.

    M11Scr_3.png M11Scr_4.png
    M11Scr_6.png M11Scr_7.png

    FiiO Music is a simple, spartan app with a fairly limited menu of configuration options, so aside from a tweak here or there, there’s not much you can do to change how it looks or behaves. That’s a pity really, because as-is the app is sometimes clumsy, often restrictive, all depending on how demanding you are of your music software. For example, the home page of the app is oddly split into three sections, with a gallery-like display of current album tracks up top, a midsection of source choice (local, playlist or DLNA), and a bottom section that lets you toggle between Recently Played, Most Played, and Recently Added tracks.

    You can’t swap out one section for another, assign any other category or function to the home page, or change the type of list in the bottom third. What you see is what you get, like it or leave it.

    The single biggest advantage of FiiO Music, however, is that for all its quirks, it’s currently the only app that I’m aware of that can bypass the default Android music stack and play high-res music at native bitrates without upsampling. That means that for now, FiiO Music is your best option for getting the best possible sound quality from your high-res music files on the M11.

    The good news is that the quality is there in spades. Straight out the box without any ‘burn in’ (if you believe in that pseudoscience), the M11 is immediately more neutral sounding and more resolving than the M9 I used before and the Cayin N3 I used before that. I’m no engineer or expert, so whether that’s because the M11 sports twin dacs and newer generation AK dacs than the AK4490EQ in both my previous DAPs, I can’t really say. It’s likely a sum of its parts – newer dacs, more and better amps, better audio circuit components (if you believe the marketing specs), a more powerful and efficient CPU, more RAM headroom, better power management. Whatever it is, the M11 just plain sounds better, using the same IEMs (the FiiO FH5), than does the M9 or N3.

    M11_FH5.jpg

    Better still, the M11 is powerful enough to drive my high-impedance desktop headphones – the 300-ohm Sennheiser HD800 and ZMF Auteur – not only loud enough (90 out of 120 on the volume dial and both headphones are louder than I’d usually listen to them), but also with enough control that I’m not left wanting. Does it drive them as well as $1200 4-watt desktop amp/dac? Of course not, but you wouldn’t expect it to. The HD800 choked on the M9, and I didn’t even bother trying it with the N3.

    The point here is that the M11 will comfortably drive lower impedance and more sensitive desktop headphones, of which there are many (including the likes of Focal’s Utopia and Meze’s Empyrean), as well if not better than some similar-spec desktop amps. Remind yourself that this is a $450 do-it-all DAP and you’ll get where I’m going with this. The M11 can, if you want it to, serve as a desktop replacement. I don’t want it to, but the option is there if I ever did.
    Want specific examples? Let’s see: Heidi Talbot’s hauntingly beautiful ‘If You Stay’ from her Love + Light album. The opening sequence of guitar riffs tells me everything I need to know about the bass response of my headphones – and by extension how well they’re being driven. That’s followed by the first passages of Heidi almost whispering into the microphone, so close you can hear the nuances in her breathing. Or at least you should, and it shouldn’t sound sticky or sibilant. The detail the M11 pulls out of this sequence, and the control it has over the FH5’s variable bass response (it can sound slow or muddy with the wrong source) is exceptional. Tight and controlled is how I’d describe it, the vocals soft and far less forward than the FH5 is often inclined to render the upper mids.

    One reason I really enjoy the FH5 is its ability to project a stage far wider than you’d think possible with IEMs. On some tracks you’d swear you’re wearing open headphones. Angels of Venice’s ‘Trotto’ from their ‘Angels of Venice’ CD is a perfect test for staging width, layering, imaging and separation. The various mediaeval instruments jostle for position across a wide stage, appearing first here, then there, then everywhere at once. The drums, when they hit, should sound and feel deep and textured, and project a sound consistent with their size. The highs of the whistles should be crisp, clear and easily identified in their space. The M11 renders the soundscape of this track perfectly. I don’t hear any sense of soundstage restriction, or rolloff at either end of the spectrum. The bass is big when it needs to be, but never boomy. Again, the word control comes to mind. With only 40 points on the volume dial – a third of its full range – the FH5 is more than loud enough and perfectly clear. The power here is visceral, but the control of that power is what’s most impressive.

    I could go on – I have notes on at least a dozen more tracks, including Rosie Thomas’s quirky ‘Why Waste More Time’, Katie Melua’s ‘The Love I’m Frightened Of’, Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’, AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young and Beautiful’, Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Story’, Neil Diamond’s ‘Hello Again’, Allen Toussaint’s ‘St James Infirmary’, Anna Nalick’s ‘Wreck of the Day’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’ – but we’ll be here all day if I had to review them here.

    The takeaway is this: the M11’s sound profile is, for want of a better word, accurate. With a reference headphone like the HD800, everything sounds like I know it should, perhaps missing only the last few percentage points of speed and verve of a far more powerful amp and the smoothness of a NOS R2R dac (my desktop setup of choice). It drives the FH5 IEMs with the power and authority the spec sheet suggests, perhaps with a little less of the ‘fun factor’ I found when using them with the slightly thicker sounding M9, but truer to the reference sound of the tracks (which to me means more neutral). That’s not to say the M11 will turn your fun headphones into reference headphones, but it may sacrifice some thump for finesse, so keep that in mind when pairing.

    Is this consistent with FiiO’s ‘house sound’? Honestly, I don’t know, nor can I tell you how it compares to the ‘house sound’ of its competitors like HiBy, Cayin, Cowon and iBasso. But I’d venture that any differences in the sound between the M11 and its peers, some of which cost up to twice as much, is more a difference in the tuning of those players rather than the raw sound quality as an objective measurement.

    As a source, is it comparable to a good desktop-grade amp and dac? Of the ones I’ve personally owned – ifi’s Micro iDSD, and Audio-gd’s R2R-11 and NFB-11 – I’d say very much so, albeit with less amping power to drive more demanding headphones like LCDs.

    It’s easily better – more refined, resolving and powerful – than the two less advanced DAPs I previously used, as it should be, best demonstrated by how far the same IEMs and headphones scaled upward with the M11. If you’re wondering whether upgrading to the M11 from one of the lower-end FiiOs is worth it purely from a sound quality basis, then yes, it is. Throw in all the other features and functionality, and it’s a no brainer.

    M11_HD800.jpg

    The other stuff

    The M11 represents good value at the current asking price of $450 (give or take a few bucks depending where in the world you buy it) even if you just bought it to play music with FiiO Music. Except you’d be wasting so much of the M11’s potential if that’s all you bought it for.

    That’s because a modern marvel like the M11 is not just a DAP, just like a modern SUV is not just a car. It’ll play your music as beautifully as any DAP at this level and price point should, but what sets it apart from all those other DAPs – and many that cost significantly more – is all the other things it can do.

    As a full-featured Android device (minus Google Play, of course), you can almost infinitely tweak how you play your music. Want an app with a slicker, sharper UI, dozens more features, and far better library management than FiiO Music: get Poweramp. Try before you buy for 15 days, or buy it for small change, but either way, it’s what I now use as my daily music software despite the claims by some that playback quality suffers and that it can’t play high-res files at their true bitrate (the second part is fact, at least until Poweramp’s developer releases high-res support for the M11, while the jury is out on the first part).

    M11Scr_9.png M11Scr_10.png
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    Or use any number of alternative music players: Neutron (which does reportedly support high-res playback, but the interface leaves much to be desired), Rocket Player, AIMP. The only recognised player you can’t currently use is USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) because it’s only available on the Google Play Store and won’t run without it, nor will its developers cede to the requests of many on this forum to make it available independently.

    I use two other music apps alongside Poweramp: Plex and Tidal. Both let me stream my high-res music through the M11, Plex from my local network, Tidal from the cloud. Whether or not the music I’m hearing is downsampled to 16/44.1 as many suggest is par for the course on Android devices, I can’t say. Do I hear a significant difference listening to music with these apps on the M11 compared to my Mac? No, I don’t. Make of that what you will.

    M11Scr_2.png M11Scr_1.png
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    Then there’s all the other stuff, the non-music stuff. With no accelerometer or gyroscope, the M11 won’t automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode by rotating it. Play a movie and the display switches to landscape. Stop the movie and the display stays in landscape until you switch apps or gesture back to the home screen. Awkward, but not a train smash. The fact that you can even play movies at an enjoyable resolution on a retina screen with all the benefit of dedicated audio hardware already makes the M11 more useful as a media player than many smartphones. The same goes for games, but I’m not a gamer, so I’ll leave it there.

    Multitasking and apps that continue to run in the background is another big plus – especially compared to DAPs like the M9 that tease it but can’t offer it. One of the shortcomings of the M9, for example, was the inability to run a system-wide EQ, so that tweaks made to the sound in one app would carry over to others. Another Aurora Store find – RE EQ – does just that, sounds great, is highly configurable, and works seamlessly in the background, whether I’m listening to music in Tidal or watching a Netflix movie. It’s even configurable per-app.

    M11Scr_24.png

    Then there’s the simple stuff, like web browsing, that is par for the course on a smart device, but not always on a DAP. With the M11, you can do all the surfing you like while your favourite tracks play flawlessly in the background. You can even control playback using the side buttons and volume wheel without leaving the browser.

    This review is fast approaching 5,000 words and I haven’t even touched on features like Bluetooth. The M11 can receive and transmit high-res wireless audio using LDAC and HWA (for now it can transmit, with an upcoming firmware update it’ll also receive), one of the only DAPs to offer this functionality at the price. It can also receive Airplay from an iPhone or other Apple devices for true lossless playback, and that’s before we get to its Wi-Fi features that enable full high-res wireless support via UPnP and DLNA.

    I feel like I’m saying my thank-yous at a wedding, but let’s not forget fast charging, all-to-DSD upsampling, Wi-Fi file transfer, and QC fast charging. For sure I’ve forgotten something that’s going to be important to someone, so like at a wedding, I’ll just say to the features I haven’t mentioned in this review, you know who you are, and thank you.

    M11Scr_15.png M11Scr_16.png

    Faults? I’ve mentioned a few along the way, but they bear repeating here. FiiO Music is basic at best. The lack of Google Play will irk some. A gyroscope – or at least a software switch for screen orientation would have been useful, especially with such a great screen asking to be swiveled. There are some typos scattered across the UI, though far fewer than those on other Chinese-made daps (at least I don’t feel obliged to rewrite the English language firmware like I did for the Cayin N3). AAC Bluetooth support is conspicuous by its absence, and for no apparent reason either. Some compatibility issues have been reported with the first mSD slot and a small number of cards (if in doubt, use slot 2, but I use both slots with Adata 128GB cards without any issues).

    I’m really nitpicking for negatives, but even the ones I’ve mentioned are frivolous at best. Guys, we’re talking about a $450 DAP that can do ALL THAT. This level of quality and feature blowout was frankly inconceivable before the M11, and now that we have the M11, it’s still inconceivable. Goodness knows what treats we’re in for at this price range in the future when the M11 exists today.

    TL;DR

    The FiiO M11 is the best sounding, best featured DAP you can buy for $500 or less. It is better built, better specked and more powerful than some DAPs costing twice as much or more, and raises more questions than answers for so-called ‘premium’ daps that deliver far less for more money. That said, it’s not a DAP for everyone. It’s thicker and heavier than a large smartphone, and nowhere near as pocketable. It’s based on Android but won’t give you the full Google Play experience. It’ll last all day on a fast charge but not all week like some DAPs. Yet despite the downsides, the M11 is easily, unequivocally, and inarguably the best value DAP on the market today, this year, and for who knows how much longer beyond that. Highly recommended.

    Edit:
    as luck would have it, at around the same time I posted this review, FiiO posted Firmware 1.0.5 for the M11, which adds LDAC receive capabilities, fixes some of the typos I pointed out, improves the boot up animation, and squashed numerous small playback and display bugs. That’s four full firmware updates in the three weeks I’ve had the M11 - and it hasn’t even been officially released in the US and Europe yet (current ETA has been pushed back to early June for some reason - probably because they can’t make enough to meet demand). Hats off to FiiO for the ongoing product support and refinement, and for listening to their customers (though I know a few sour X5iii and X7ii users that may not share the sentiment).
    1. View previous replies...
    2. gLer
      @vonBurg thanks for the kind words. I tried connecting my iPhone via OTG to the M11 but it (the M11) didn't switch to USB DAC mode, so I suspect what @WitzyZed is right about USB-C and Micro USB and Apple MFi. Coming from Apple, I'm quite dismayed at all the workarounds you need to get Apple stuff working - I mean, you don't even get AAC Bluetooth support and I suspect that's only because of licensing fees.
      gLer, May 23, 2019 at 10:44 AM
      vonBurg likes this.
    3. gLer
      Personally my excellent experience with the M11 has made me seriously question my longstanding commitment to iOS, to the point where my next phone might well be an Android phone. As for USB DAC from the Mac, yes it works well, although I haven't compared quality yet. Should be interesting though...
      gLer, May 23, 2019 at 10:45 AM
      vonBurg likes this.
    4. audiophilefan
      @gLer Off topic - switch to Android already. I'm sure you'll never miss iOS. Android phones are much better and easier to use and you don't have to be "trapped" to what Apple could offer, which is almost primitive tech (no offense). Trust me on this. Plus there are Android phones that sound amazingly good too, according to reviews (e.g. LG V series). Go ahead, switch. I feel you want to. :)
      audiophilefan, May 23, 2019 at 7:04 PM
      gLer likes this.
  2. audiophilefan
    Fiio M11 - The Truth
    Written by audiophilefan
    Published May 15, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Feature-packed, responsive UI, great build, beautiful design, Android based, balance of clean and rich sound, powerful output power (balanced not tested in this review)
    Cons - Google Play Store not available for current firmware, Fiio Music App EQ not so effective, slow to connect to wi-fi network
    BACKGROUND

    It is Fiio’s 12th Anniversary and they were giving away prizes for everyone. Yey! Being the unlucky person that I am when it comes to raffle prizes, I decided to join not expecting anything. I shared my public greeting to Fiio in Facebook and voila! A few days later, I received a message from Lily at Fiio telling me that I won grand prize! It is the Fiio M11. Yes, I am that “lucky” guy.

    As I told Lily, I’ve been supporting Fiio for years now, having owned and reviewed the E11K (A3), X1, E12, EM3, K1, and now the M11. They are a company that I believe in. I love how they continue to improve and push price-to-performance ratio in a whole new level every time. Yes, I believe they deliver the overall best value products in the portable audio industry, bar none. With continuous firmware updates and reliable customer support, they are now one of the most respected brands in the industry.


    The Fiio M11 is a pleasant surprise. But am I going to give it a good review just because it was given to me for free? Before anyone thinks that this will be a biased review, I’d like to remind everyone that every Fiio that I ever owned I purchased with my own money. No freebies until this one. And besides, I was told to “Tell the truth. It’s ok.” when I asked for review guidelines. So it begs the question, is this The Truth? Read on to find out.


    ABOUT ME

    I listen to almost all genres of music but my favorites are rock, blues, and jazz.

    I am a music lover. I love music more than the equipment to play music with. I recognize that decent equipment is important but decent is good enough. Expensive is not necessary. I firmly believe in the law of diminishing returns.

    I believe in burn-in but it depends on the equipment. Some do not need much. Some do not need any at all.

    I believe in measurements but I never relied on them. I solely rely on my ears.

    I believe that blind test is the only real test, without any visual influence or biases, without placebo.

    Audio nirvana for me is a state of mind, not a state of equipment.

    Regardless of my beliefs, I respect all audiophiles and music lovers for their passion and dedication.


    PACKAGING

    Unboxing

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    View from all sides (with and without a case)

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    Beauty shots

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    SPECS AND FEATURES

    For complete specs and features, please check here - https://www.fiio.com/m11


    BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN

    Did you see the pictures? Most likely but they may not be giving justice to how beautiful this device really looks in person. It is solid and hefty. There are no curves to it, just straight lines, which I love. It has an authoritative, powerful look, only tamed by the beautiful golden volume wheel. Buttons are tightly tactile and very responsive, no loose feeling at all. Headphone ports are gold lined and reinforced. Headphone jacks plug in real tight and secure. Notice the thread here? There are no “loose ends” to the build. It is as solid and tight as they come.


    SOUND

    Burn-in: It is a DAP, not a headphone where the driver needs to loosen up so I do not expect a lot of changes after burn-in. Approximately 10 hours in and the sound remained consistent, if a little richer out of the box. No other changes noted thereafter.

    Set-up:
    • Fiio Music App EQ is off.
    • 3.5mm headphone out (I have no balanced headphones to test)
    • Gain is set to HIGH
    • Filter is set at Short delay Sharp Roll-Off (default)
    I would like to preface this section by saying that headphones produce what you hear. The quality of bass, mids, highs, soundstage, and imaging are mostly dependent on the headphones. What a DAP could lend is its inherent leanness or warmth (dependent on the DAC), lower noise, and clean, abundant power, among other features. The role of a DAP is to output as linear a sound as possible to the headphones and let the headphones do the trick. Improvements to the headphone’s inherent qualities may be noticeable due to a better DAC and the added power (vs a phone or other DAPs).

    The M11 sound is neither too lean (others may refer to this as thin or neutral) nor too warm (thick or dark). It hits the sweet spot at being lean and detailed with just the right warmth and richness so bass notes come off clean and clear.

    I don’t find the need to EQ the default sound of the DAP. It is just right. And if you ever want to EQ it, the equalizer in the Fiio Music App isn’t too invasive, but some may find it as ineffective since some EQs apply an immediate change to sound with a few DBs of adjustment. I think this is intentional to avoid distortion but Fiio could make it a touch more effective.

    What it lends to the headphone is better detail in bass notes, mid-range, and treble. Differentiating notes in a bass guitar for example is easier, as well as differentiating vocal types from singers. It’s easier to recognize that a particular singer sings in a particular range or pitch, etc. Vocal uniqueness among singers come in more distinctively. The decay in cymbals and other high frequency instruments are much improved and you wouldn’t normally associate notes with cymbals but a simple mild crash can be very detailed and tingling.

    As I prefaced, a better DAC (two DACs in this case), and the added clean power brings about these significant improvements to sound.


    OTHER FEATURES

    Pairing with an amp

    Sumptuous. Very sumptuous. Paired it with my favorite portable amp, the Fiio E12, and the added meat to the sound, especially when you flick that bass boost on is just a magnificent experience altogether. If you’re craving for a richer, meatier sound, it is good to pair it with a capable amp.

    Nonetheless, the bulk of the stack may not appeal to some. And since it’s already a 5-inch, thick, metal clad player, not having an amp will be more practical for portable use. Besides, I like the balanced sound as it is and don’t find the need for an amp, unless I’m driving 600ohm headphones and above. At high gain, I’m confident it could drive 300ohm headphones at satisfying volume levels.

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    Bluetooth receiver mode


    Using the Bluetooth receiver mode (M11 used as a Bluetooth amp) is a breeze. It’s easy to pair and sound quality at the default codec (SBC) is great, albeit being less clean than wired output. I do not have Bluetooth headphones to test transmission but I imagine it to be as convenient. It supports all the major codecs, including LDAC if that’s what you’re looking for. It is, in fact, the first DAP to be HI-RES AUDIO WIRELESS certified. Impressive Bluetooth connectivity.

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    USB DAC mode


    Works well and sound quality is similar to regular headphone out, if a touch louder (dependent on the laptop. Mine has a powerful Bang and Olufsen audio set up inside.)

    Important reminder is to set the right settings. The images below are for Windows 10 and Foobar2000 respectively but I imagine the settings to be similar to Windows 7 and above. And remember to change the Output Selection to PO (headphone out), else there will be no audio coming out of your headphones (if set to LO or line out).

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    USER INTERFACE

    I will simply put pictures so you’ll know what to expect but would not discuss navigation in detail. It is basically a stripped down version of Android 7. I am running the latest firmware installed via wi-fi (1.0.4). The UI is responsive and navigation speed is comparable to a decent mid-range phone (e.g. Samsung Galaxy J7 or higher). 3GB of RAM does the trick quite well and there have been no lags so far.

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    OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
    • Connecting to wi-fi is slower compared to a phone. Initial connection if off for a long time takes about 10 seconds average.
    • Connecting to Bluetooth is as good as any mid-range phone, especially when already paired.
    • Wi-fi firmware update takes as long as any mid-range phone, about 10-15 minutes, inclusive of download time, installation, and auto-restart. Reasonably fast in my opinion, typical of Android updates.
    • Song scanning is as good as any mid-range phone. It took about 1-2 minutes to scan my 2443 songs, which is a combination of hi-res flacs, standard-res flacs, and MP3s. It may take longer to scan DSDs and MQAs.
    • Battery life is 10-13 hours. I’d like to have my screen on for the max setting of 30 mins so it would’ve depleted faster than normal (5 hours at 50% factory charge). I expect the battery to perform better after several charge cycles.
    • Charging time is 2.5-3 hours (screen and wi-fi is off). If you’re using a fast charger, I imagine it to be just around 1.5-2 hours.

    CONCLUSION

    I am quite baffled not seeing a detailed review for the M11 yet. I’m sure I’m not the first one but even reviews in Youtube seem somewhat lacking. I understand that it has been recently released but in my opinion, it needs more respect and attention than it already has.

    Feature-wise, it is the best player in the market today. Point me to another player that supports all the hi-res formats, wireless or otherwise and that supports 3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced output all at the same time. In that sense alone, it is a worthy recommendation.

    Is it worth the price? It comes down to your passion really. If you’re an audiophile or an avid music lover looking for the convenience of Android and a stellar sound, absolutely! If you have a wireless headphone with LDAC or are a fan of wireless gear in general, definitely! If you’re looking for a feature-packed, play-what-you-want, plug-what-you-want device, this is for you! Currently, there is nothing like it on earth. All features considered, this is not an exaggeration.

    Fiio M11 is The Truth. And I hope a lot more people enjoy it as much as I do now.

    Happy listening, everyone!
      text, archy121, warriorpoet and 6 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Darren Cotter
      Thanks for the great review. I would love to know where the M11 fits in against the X5iii and X7ii sonically. I hope the more modern architecture of the M series units over the X, has a positive effect on FiiO's firmware stability. They really need to sort this aspect of their business. Trouble is, they seem to be releasing new products on an almost monthly basis and spreading themselves too thin.
      Darren Cotter, May 22, 2019 at 2:33 AM
      audiophilefan likes this.
    3. audiophilefan
      @text Thanks! Appreciate it. I think I auditioned a DX90 a long time ago, the last Ibasso I ever heard. IF that represents the Ibasso house sound up until today, that is a darker/richer sounding DAP. Not as open or lively sounding. That swapability could be for the X series. I imagine the X7 still being the flagship due to that feature but the M11 is powerful enough not to warrant a swap in amp module. Can't go wrong with both. :)
      audiophilefan, May 23, 2019 at 4:32 AM
    4. audiophilefan
      @Darren Cotter Thank you! Unfortunately, I do not have the X5 nor the X7 to compare. The shift to Android is a step in the right direction. If they can get Google Play certified, even better. If you need firmware support, they are very responsive at the Fiio FB page. :)
      audiophilefan, May 23, 2019 at 4:48 AM