FiiO M7 High-Resolution Lossless Audio Player: Samsung’s Exynos 7270 SoC, aptX-HD , LDAC, FM radio

Rating:
4/5,
  1. HiFiChris
    Modern Wireless Codecs, excellent Hiss Performance
    Written by HiFiChris
    Published Jul 12, 2018 at 12:49 AM
    4.0/5,
    Pros - + excellent (!) hiss performance
    + design
    + good FM tuner
    + generally good GUI and handy search feature (+ managing playlists on the go)
    + supports in-line remotes (but no CTIA volume control)
    + works great as a wireless digital source
    + supports the latest Bluetooth audio codecs
    + fluent navigation & operation
    Cons - - long boot time
    - some people might find the card scanning speed a little too slow for modern standards
    - annoying lock screen (rarely recognises centre swipes because the centre is reserved for five lines of lyrics)
    - FM tuner lacks RDS
    - ca. 1.9 Ohms output impedance (0 to 1 would be nicer)
    Disclosure/fwiw: The FiiO M7 that this very review is about was supplied to me complementary as a free review sample.

    - - -

    FiiO’s digital audio players were a success right from the start, even though that start was sooomewhat delayed in the beginning. Good measurements and sound quality for a reasonable price was what the X3, their first model, offered. Which, back in its day, was quite a novelty and therefore quite a big hit, as most digital audio players of that time either had badly dimensioned coupling caps in their signal path causing bass roll-off with low impedance loads, tons of hiss with sensitive in-ears, a high output resistance, didn’t even output a flat signal without load, or, if you were very unlucky, all of that.
    That’s not really an introduction to the FiiO M7, but should show that today’s digital audio players have come a long way since around 2010 where a low impedance multi-BA in-ear friendly digital audio player was probably as rare as Bigfoot and all of the in-ear audio nerds, myself included, ran around with a stack of a DAP and high-end, in-ear-friendly amp such as the Leckerton UHA-6S (no hiss, no badly dimensioned caps in the signal path, low output impedance, linear signal output and generally really good measurements) while even some of AGPTek’s inexpensive digital audio players perform better with sensitive in-ears than some of the expensive stuff “back in the day”, despite some software shortcomings.

    DSC05233-small.JPG

    Anyway, just like my iBasso DX150 review, I am trying to keep this one quite short. There just isn’t any real need to repeat the technical specs that can be found on the manufacturer’s product page of the M7, go in-depth about the design aspects (in my opinion, the FiiO M7 is one of the most attractive digital audio players on the market, despite sharing some design aspects with various of Astell&Kern’s older models) or delivery content/unboxing experience that you can see on the photos and videos that are available on the web, and other stuff.
    Let’s just shorten it down to some user interface/speed & performance talk and the audio-related stuff such as output impedance/performance under low impedance load, hiss performance using extremely sensitive in-ears, the volume control, and perhaps a little touch subjective impressions on top.

    - - -

    But first let’s focus on some other things: Features/Connectivity:

    I’ve already seen some people talking about that they “didn’t get” the essence of the M7, officially priced at $199 for the US (international prices might be higher though, depending on the region and seller), and that they didn’t see it as a worthy addition to the market with devices from Sony or Cowon existing.
    What one has to realise, and should be quite obvious to really interested potential buyers, is that the FiiO M7 is equipped with the latest high-resolution Bluetooth codec standards such as aptX, aptX-HD and even LDAC, can work as a digital transport source to be used with an external USB DAC, and has got a built-in FM tuner, which in my opinion is the main selling point for the M7. So it doesn’t only serve as a wired and wireless transport source, but has also got an integrated FM radio.

    But wait, doesn’t a modern smartphone feature the same? Yes and no – in about the same price range, BlackBerry’s models, at least to my knowledge, have aptX. Most other smartphones send the SBC codec, although it isn’t known at what bitrate and quality (most are very good and close to aptX, but some suck right away).
    FM radio also seems to be a dying breed. Some people, me included, do however like to use it from time to time, either for long walks, hiking, sports or just in-between. And I would love to see more audio players apart from the very cheap ones having an integrated FM tuner.

    Then of course the volume control offers more steps than that of most typical smartphones, which is an advantage.

    So yeah, the M7 does have features that some devices (such as some smartphones and a few digital audio players around the same price) have as well, but it also offers others that not all of the competitors have in one device, while also being short on some other features that some of the competition might have to offer around the same price (e.g. more (digital) outputs, WiFi streaming or some audio-related specs).
    In the end it’s about finding the digital audio player that fits to one’s individual needs in terms of features/connectivity and audio-related specs anyway.

    - - -

    GUI:

    The GUI in the menu is kept rather simple and should be familiar to most (no surprise since the OS is Android-based – installing additional apps isn’t possible though and the M7 doesn’t offer WiFi either). One will however not find any back/home button – instead, going back one layer is done swiping bottom to top on the left, whereas doing the same on the right hand side brings one back to the main menu.

    At first glance, the music player app is probably less “exciting”, intuitive and simple, especially compared to what Apple or iBasso offer on their digital audio players, but one gets used to it rather quickly as well since the swiping gestures and screens are rather easy to remember.
    While it offers the stuff that most people demand (all songs, artists, album, playlists, genre, folder view; file info, EQ, playback order and settings, creating playlists on the go, track counter display, seek bar, virtual control buttons), there’s also other stuff such as a search feature (which I personally find quite important), lyrics display, recently added, recently played, most played, folder play that some people might find useful.
    I don’t miss anything here and the overall design and navigation aren’t really far behind Apple’s iPod Nano 7G OS – job well done.

    DSC05232-small.JPG

    Booting the player takes around 41 seconds – which is rather long unfortunately. Once the player is on though, there are no delays. The operation and navigation are fluent, and while menus don’t open as instantly as compared to a modern smartphone or the iBasso DX150/DX200, there’s no impression of sluggishness, and the M7 is much more fluent than the quite laggy and choppy Cowon Plenue D that I used to own (really, except for launching the settings which is delayed by a split second, there are no delays).
    Micro SD card scanning speed might be perceived as too slow as well for modern day standards, but since it is something that isn’t performed often, I don’t really see it as an issue.

    What I personally don’t like is the lock screen – while it can be deactivated for general use, it is always present when music is playing and at the moment, it doesn’t always react instantly to swipes if they’re performed in the centre (which is because that centre is reserved for displaying five lines of lyrics).

    What I really like though is that in its status bar, the M7 shows what Bluetooth codec is used by the wirelessly connected device.

    - - -

    Let’s take a closer look at the FM Radio:

    Not all that much surprisingly, FM over Bluetooth doesn’t work, even if an “antenna” is connected.

    There doesn’t seem to be a limitation of stations that can be saved/bookmarked, but there are only 7 in my area that can be received anyway (even with a good antenna), so I’m likely far below the limitation.

    Other than that, the layout is super clean and manual scanning and selecting the stations is as easy and intuitive as it could be – in this way, the M7 is just as good as my Apple iPod Nano 7G.

    Signal reception and strength are good as well.

    What’s somewhat sad though is that the M7 doesn’t offer RDS, which is something I have really learnt to like on portable devices such as my SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip and iPod Nano 7G.


    Sound:

    As I’m trying to keep the review rather short and compact, there just isn’t any need to be repetitive over and over again in regards to the basic things. So for general (technical) explanations in the sound-related paragraphs below, please see one of my earlier more in-depth reviews, such as these ones: iBasso DX200, FiiO Q5

    Volume Control:

    Overall there are 60 volume steps.
    Listening at very low levels with super sensitive in-ears is fortunately possible, but I wouldn’t mind finer adjustment steps in the low range as the steps are rather big for an audio player – something that could be improved by doubling the amount of volume steps to 120.

    DSC05231-small.JPG

    The volume wheel, by the way, is rather easy to turn – personally, I wouldn’t mind more resistance.

    The M7 also supports in-line remote control commands, however only Play/Pause and Back/Forth are usually accepted. CTIA-wired remotes therefore won’t work for changing the volume, so it seems. OMTP-terminated in-ears do however seem to work when it comes to controlling the volume since my HiFiMan RE400i’s volume control doesn’t work with my iDevices (even though it should, according to the label on the y-splitter and packaging) but with the M7.

    By the way, after you have rotated the volume wheel, a screen overlay pops up that lets you use buttons or a virtual rotary dial in addition to the actual volume wheel.

    RMAA Frequency Response & Output Impedance:

    No Load:

    No Load.jpg

    -> Just as perfectly flat and linear as it should be.

    Loaded with Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10:

    Triple.Fi 10.jpg

    -> FiiO states an output impedance of below 2 Ohms. My calculation based on the loaded measurement is 1.9 Ohms. Result: claimed specs confirmed.
    Still good enough for most in-ears and better than most smartphones, but might introduce some already audible frequency response deviation with some in-ears. Something closer to 0 or 1 Ohms would have been even nicer.

    Hiss Performance using extremely sensitive IEMs:

    Gear that was used: Ostry KC06A (& briefly my Campfire Audio Andromeda)

    FiiO advertise an “incredibly low noise floor”. I was highly sceptical – but they are absolutely right: the M7 is basically quiet and doesn’t showcase any hiss with extremely sensitive in-ears in quiet passages or with empty audio files or at very low volume levels. Yup, even with the extremely sensitive Ostry that is more sensitive than some of the more/most sensitive multi-BA models, the M7 remains silent and probably all you’re going to hear in a very quiet environment is the noise of your own blood’s stream. This thing really rules!

    Yep, the M7 is among the elite, among the very best portable devices when it comes to hiss performance. It outperforms already pretty quiet or almost very quiet/very good devices in this regard, such as FiiO’s own Q5 (AM3A and AM1 module) or Q1 MkII, Cowon’s Plenue M2, Plenue J and Plenue D, the iBasso DX200 and iBasso DX150 or the Hidizs AP200. It really is in the next league (= perfection) that contains quiet and basically hiss-free devices like the iBasso DX90, RME ADI-2 DAC, Cowon Plenue 2, Leckerton UHA-6S and UHA-6S.MkII and last but not least Luxury & Precision L3 and L3 Pro.

    Grade: A(+)

    A true delight for sensitive owners of extremely sensitive in-ears.

    Subjective Listening Impressions:

    Gear that was used: my Audeze LCD-X, Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (to-go), my Etymotic ER•4S, iBasso IT01, my Sennheiser IE 800, Ostry KC06A, HiFiMan RE2000, my Fostex TE-02, my HiFiMan RE400i.

    DSC05229-small.JPG

    No deficit could be found here. Like really nothing. Which is not surprising though, given that these days good audio (playback) equipment can be found even in the low two-digit price range.

    Thanks to its excellent hiss performance, the M7 has that “black background” people with really sensitive in-ears are looking for, and sounds audibly very clean and transparent.

    Probably ever so slightly “soft(er)” with sensitive in-ears than some other devices. Could be my imagination though.
    Perceived neutral tonality as the graphs suggest anyway. Probably very slightly leaning towards a “smoother” treble attack presentation (not soft though), but less so than the iBasso DX80 or Chord Mojo. Nuances anyway under volume-matched circumstances.
    Subjectively somewhat above the Q1 MkII (which sounds softer) and minimally behind the Q5 when it comes to perceived “transparency” with in-ears.

    Circular (ideally round to my ears) and larger than “average” soundstage.

    Gapless Playback:

    … works just perfectly with FLAC files.


    Conclusion:

    The FiiO M7 is sexy. It has a well resolving (touch) screen that is among the better in its price class. Its navigation and operation are fluent and smooth without any hiccups. Booting the M7 takes rather long though.

    FiiO’s more consumer-oriented M7 digital audio player also works fantastically as a wireless digital transport source (and it shows the currently used Bluetooth codec in the status bar, which is really handy).

    Its headphone output has got an output impedance of around 1.9 Ohms – I wouldn’t mind to see 0 to 1 Ohms, but FiiO state < 2 Ohms anyway, so I guess that’s okay although not ideal for low impedance in-ears with a greater impedance swing if you want to drive them without any frequency deviation compared to a ~ 0 Ohm output.

    The FiiO M7 features truly excellent hiss performance with extremely sensitive in-ears – something that is pretty rare for portable audio devices.
    Otherwise, the sound is clean and transparent as well.

    Its FM tuner is very good (but unfortunately lacks RDS).
      FiiO, B9Scrambler, cleg and 2 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. NaiveSound
      So sounds no better than a smartphone
      NaiveSound, Jul 13, 2018 at 5:36 PM
      Dexter22 likes this.
    3. Evshrug
      Is the Bluetooth able to be configured as a receiver? Kind of like WiFi streaming, except Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone to your wired headphones?
      Evshrug, Jul 15, 2018 at 11:07 AM
    4. pithyginger63
      Have you tried hooking it up to the Mojo? I was wondering they would stack. I looked up their dimensions and the mojo dwarfs the m7 in terms of width. What would you use as a Mojo aside from a Poly? Thanks!
      pithyginger63, Jul 16, 2018 at 11:06 AM