Hardware

DAC

How far we have come when an ES9018Q2M DAC is slotted into a budget/consumer level device. Yet there lies the irony of the M7 pitch as it still overlaps greatly with FiiO’s inherent audiophile sensibilities and the ES9018Q2M is still an audiophile level DAC chipset.

The ES9018Q2M is an old but efficient DAC chipset design for mobile devices and is 2-channel capable (stereo) as opposed to 8-channel on the main ES9018 desktop version. You can find the desktop version stuck in the X7 Mark I flagship DAP from a few years ago.

You can also find the mobile Q2M version in external DACs such as the HA-2 from Oppo and DAPs from 2018 such as the Cayin N5ii. It is still a popular chipset and getting cheaper by the day since the ES9028/38 family came out late 2016. More importantly, new implementations sound much better to me than older designs. Still relatively neutral sounding, but nowhere near as “glarey” or sharp sounding in the treble.

Decoding

Decoding on the M7 using the ES9018Q2M is, as you would expect, excellent though not cutting edge. Again, if you want cutting edge you need to switch over to the X-Series DAPs. However, the M7 will do up to DSD64 and 192kHz/24bit PCM for lossless codecs including FLAC, ALC, AIFF and WAV not to mention your usual lossy codecs such as OGG, MP3 and WMA.

Amp

FiiO has opted not to use an analog amp or opamp chipset in the M7 and have instead deployed the ES9018Q2M integrated amp and LPF solution for amplification. The output power numbers are no huge at ≥70mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%) and just 40mW for a 32Ω load. The power is about 10mW lower than the HiBy Music R3, half the power of the M2s on a similar 32Ω load unbalanced,  and miles behind the balanced output of the R3 at 112mW.

The output impedance is slightly high for me at 2Ω on a 32Ω load. This may contribute to the very black background you will hear on the M7 but it may also ever so slightly tweak the low-Z impedance response of hyper-efficient IEMs.

FiiO M7

Bluetooth

Both Bluetooth and the radio feature deploy different chipsets on the M7. BT is managed via a Samsung S5N5C10B01-6330 chipset which offered BT 4.2 (though no bi-directional) including AAC, aptX and ap-HD decoding as well as LDAC. LDAC is wonderful by the way.  Is highly recommend you pick up FiiO’s BTR3 just to hear the difference between aptX and LDAC, like night and day.

FiiO M7



Radio

Radio is controlled via a Silicon Labs Si4705 chipset. Silicon has two chipsets, the 4704 and the 4705, the main difference is the RDS capability of the 4705. Interestingly, FiiO has chosen not to activate RDS (Radio Data System) on the M7 which means you get no tagging information such as the name of the station or the song being played on that station.

Now I happen to still have my Zune HD from 2006 which also had an SP1010 radio chipset from SiPort. This cheap chipset could do HD radio and FM with RDS all at the same time. Given this is 2018 and FM is not as popular as it is then it may be understandable that the M7 functionality might be more basic. However, the chipset has the capability so I would like to see this activated at some point in the firmware update process.

Software

Platform

The M7 uses a heavily modified version of Android 5.1. You will get an air of familiarity when you start accessing the general OS setting but outside of that the day to day operation is skinned with FiiO own theme which does change the user experience heavily.

You do not get the drop-down task manager and notifications bar. Nor do you get the home, multi-tasking and return buttons at the bottom of the screen. Instead, FiiO has taken a leaf out of Blackberry OS10 with a navigation system based around swipe gestures.

Apps

You also have a closed garden approach to apps. You cannot add any new apps but you do get 5 cooked into the OS out of the box. The four include the FiiO Player, the FM Radio app, file management and a gallery app for image and wallpaper management.

The FiiO implementation does not support Android multi-tasking though it is not clear if all the apps are closed when you swipe them off the screen. Certainly, when I am playing audio I can swipe the FiiO app off the screen and still hear music and bring it back again to continue browsing my media so there are some instances where the app is saying open and draining the battery.

Developer Options

Being Android you can still unlock developer options if you find those things useful to you. Simply drill into ‘settings-general-about device’ and ap on the build number row 7 times and bingo!

Be warned though it is not for casual users and given the apps management is gimped you are unlikely to get a lot of useful tweaks out of it. However, if you want to activate USB Mode selection or USB debugging from a technical point of view it is there.

Navigation

Because of the way FiiO has themed the Android OS and simplified it the UI is also much simpler to use. However, Android users may find the lack of features a little more frustrating as it is much more linear in navigation than a truly open platform.

FiiO M7

Home Screen

FiiO M7

Top Left Home Button

Home Screen

Booting into the home screen you get a single screen with the 6 main apps and from there you can go into each app to do what you need to do. FiiO allows you to get out of each app via a home button on the top left if you are one level down into the app or an arrow button on the left if you are many levels down into the app.



Secondary Navigation

The non-technical apps, including the Player, Radio, File manager and gallery, all have secondary command features on the top-right of the screen. These include audio settings for the FiiO player as well as search functionality (magnifying glass icon) and ‘find radio station’ functionality. Beyond the FiiO Player’s more in-depth feature management nothing is more than 3 clicks away from the home screen which warms my old-school UI rules heart.

FiiO M7

Secondary Navigation

FiiO Player

Legacy Features

The FiiO Music Player is probably the most complex and well-designed of the provided apps on the M7. Pleasingly, it does have a ring of familiarity as it is designed in the same manner as the Player app on the X5iii and X7ii.

The Player home screen provides the same three “played” lists, recent, most, and recently added, as well as icon-based options to drill right into the media management database. It has the same cogwheel settings option in the top corner (right as opposed to left) to access the Player’s own unique audio settings.

The software also provides the same handy search option on the top-right to find whatever particular song you want right away. It also has the same quick start tagline at the bottom of the media library screen to allow you instant access to whatever you are playing right now.

FiiO M7

Home Screen

FiiO M7

Playback Screen

What Missed The Cut?

So what is missing or different from the X Series Player app? Well for a starter you do not have a secondary menu at the top of the media library screen to easily flick between genre, artist, folder etc. The UI is more linear than that so you have to “reverse” back to the home screen of the player and start your discovery of another category all over again. You also have no DLNA functionality since the M7 has no WiFi.

It is also missing the additional swipe left and right functionality on individual song rows in the music library. In the X5iii and X7iii, these allow you direct access to BT, playlist building and to delete the actual song itself. You can only delete the track from within the actual playback screen by pressing the album art area once to bring up track info and looking for the menu below. This menu is really the pop up vertical menu you get on the X5iii/X7ii player playback screen but in an abbreviated and rather buried form.

FiiO M7

Buried Functionality

FiiO M7

Linear Navigation

Play Settings

I would advise updating to v1.03 which is the latest firmware at the time of writing. Some play setting features on v1.3 are not present on earlier firmware versions such as replay gain which many find useful. (Note you will need an SD Card to upgrade the firmware, it will no upgrade using the downloadable zip file from the internal memory).

Overall, quite a lot of the existing play settings features from the M7’s bigger brother DAPs are present. These include features like gapless playback, play through folders, media scanning, themes, off timer and the lockscreen album art/lyrics options. Missing are features such as direct control of the in-line remote functionality, gain setting and VIPER. Channel balancing and in-line remote options have been moved to the main OS settings area outside of the Player app.

FiiO M7

Player Settings 1

FiiO M7

Player Settings 2

Radio

I actually quite like radio on a DAP. I had it on my old Zune HD and I am pleased to see it once again on a modern DAP. Of course, things have moved since then so it is not an essential feature. Still, you want free “streaming” music that won’t kill the battery on the M7 this is your only option.

Regional Settings & Audio Quality

Just remember to go into your core OS settings and set the regional frequency band in the radio option, for example, Asia, Europe or US. This actually had an effect on the quality of my signal. Set for Asia, which is our region here, the reception had a bit more background noise. Once changed to US region the background noise dropped significantly. My suggestion is to try a few regional settings to see if you can improve the quality of reception.

FiiO M7

Radio Station Finder

FiiO M7

Radio Stations

Setting Up Stations

The rest of the setup is fairly simple. You can either go up and down the radio wave banding to find the channel manually or press the little “radar” icon in the top corner which will immediately find and store all the channels that it can pick up. It is pretty fast and accurate also. I compared it to my older Zune HD radio performance in terms of picking up channels and both found the same number regardless of signal strength.

Signal Quality

Unfortunately, I cannot definitively tell you if the signal quality is good because the radio station performance in our area is just awful. Our car radio sucks as does the FM Radio on the M7 and Zune HD. Nothing to do with the apps or car radio, just a crappy radio network on our island. I can tell you though that the reception is just as good as my Zune HD SiPort chipset.

Bluetooth

This is the absolute star of the show and what makes the M7 so good. Pairing and set up in the OS is like any other Android 5.1 experience but tucked in the audio settings is the ability also to define at what level you want the M7 to decode and boy are they just yum!

Hi-Res Codecs

Everything from LDAC, aptX-HD, and aptX down to plain vanilla SBC are available. It is probably one of the first DAPs at this price point to offer such a wide range of options. I know plenty are now in catch up mode with the R3 now offering LDAC but not aptX-HD. For that, you need the right chipset and the R3 does not have it. Mind you LDAC is so good you won’t need aptX-HD unless your receiver does not have LDAC.

FiiO M7

BT Pairing

FiiO M7

Codec Selection

Pairing

Testing with the BTR3 LDAC capable receiver was totally seamless with the M7. You simply pair and it automatically shows for a brief second the LDAC logo and you are good to go. With other devices such as the Plussound Exo BT cable, it was the same experience only up to aptX since this is its max capability.

General Settings

General settings outside of the FiiO player are actually very limited but the most important ones are there such as Bluetooth pairing and codec settings such as aptX-HD and LDAC as well as regional settings for FM Radio and the core OS general settings. You can also set the screen lock password here if you choose as well as the screen lock wallpaper, language, date and time.

There is also a handy option in the general settings to customize the functionality of the physical buttons when the screen is locked. Basically, this feature allows you to turn them on or off to enhance the lock-down so to speak. You can adjust each button individually on or off.

FiiO M7

General Settings

FiiO M7

Custom Lockscreen

Battery Measures

I would dive into the general settings fairly quickly once out of the box because of a lot of the settings here really do affect battery life. Particularly the brightness level of the screen and the sleep settings. Max brightness and sleep setting to never will drain that battery fast so I recommend 30 seconds on the sleep timer and about 50% on the brightness level as a fair compromise. You can also set the power off measure to conserve battery life even further with an idle power-off of around 10-20 mins.

Click on Page 3 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons

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31 Responses

  1. Bruce Bourassa

    Will the it push full sized headphones, I am half deaf so I need to crank the volume quite high usually at 65% or higher on most daps to hear the way I like it. On high gain as well. Would you recommend this one, even if you recommend it , what other options are out there for me at this price range. I use Focal Spirit Pro, sony wh-1000xm2

    Reply
    • Marcus

      There is no issue on loudness though I have not tested a Spirit Pro. It is rated at 32ohm and 102dB so it will require a decent current to get really loud. Normally DAPs do not have an issue on loudness but rather on how well it performs regardless of SPL. The M7 might not give you the most dynamic of sounds. For me, I would be looking at the iBasso DX120 for more power though you do lose wireless connectivity and apps.

      Reply
  2. Martin Brown

    I rejected the NW A45 on the basis of too many bad reviews. I have not read any review which places it above the M7. Opinions on Fiio v Shanling are not quite so clear. I have never heard the M2 but some reviews say it is a bit on the dull side – which could be a mistake with the 425s.

    To get the full advantage of a balanced connection, the internal wiring of the earphones needs to be changed, not just the cables. In THEORY it gives an advantage but in practice I have my doubts. Any improvement heard MAY simply be due to better cables or wishful thinking. My main hifi has balanced connection but the only advantage I can hear is a complete lack of hum. That isn’t problem with a DAP.

    Reply
  3. Siddharth Parmar

    Ok thanks. I am kinda of limited by my budget hence decided to go for these two. They seemed the best what i can get for the amount spent. for DAP, i am not sure which one will be best…the Sony NW A45 , M7 FiiO or the shanling M2…for some reason i am thinking to get M7 but the NW A45 is available at cheaper price as of now. Lack of balanced output hurts the playback ?

    Reply
  4. Martin Brown

    I have not heard them together but I think that the M7 & Shure 425 would make a very good combination. The 425s are very musical and very relaxing; they simply lack a little bit of extension top and bottom. That can be a good thing though with a less than perfect source.

    It is the extremes of the M7 that are slightly below the quality of the top DAPs and the 425s probably will not reveal that to you. You will be missing out a little bit of timbre and spaciousness at both ends of the spectrum with both the M7 and the 425s. You will hear plenty to make the music enjoyable but unless that extra little bit of analysis is important to you, I think they would sound great together.

    There are more analytical earphones than the 535’s but TO ME the compromise between musicality and analysis is ideal with the 535s. The compromise with the 425s is just a little bit more laid back – which may well be ideal for many purposes. Unless you are in a quiet environment, the differences will be marginal anyway. Another reason to think they would be fine with the M7 is that the 425s are said to be easier to drive than the 535s.

    Reply
  5. Headfonics

    Hi, Mike did the review of the AP80 and I did the review of the M7, unfortunately we live rather far apart so cannot compare. Suffice to say though the M7 is superior for Bt audio.

    Reply
  6. Headfonics

    I use a Shanling L2 Type-C to Micro USB cable with the HA-2SE and 7 and seems to work fine for me. Cost you about $20-25 on Amazon.

    Reply
  7. Martin Brown

    My 2 penny worth: The M7 + SE535s is a quality mis-match. I have the M7 and the SE535s and although it drives them, the limitations of the M7 are shown up by the superb Shures. The SE535s are massively better with my Oppo HA-2 which has the same DAC (different implementation though). I get the impression that the M7 amplifier is simply not up to the job of driving the SE535s well enough. I really doubt the M0 amp would be either. The SE535s are truly superb, the M7 is very good but just not in the same class.

    Reply
  8. Martin Brown

    How did you get it to work with the Oppo HA-2? I have tried mine with 3 different cables and get nothing at all. Is there a setting I’m missing?

    Reply
  9. Headfonics

    I used crappy sdcards, the awful cheap pirated cards from aliexpress that barely work on my PC. I use DSD, PCM, Flac and Mp3 on those cards, I stream LDAC from it all the time as my main LDAC player and I have firmwared it as and when required. I burn through its battery twice a week.

    I bash, poke it and play it tough because thats how we roll with DAPs. Not once, and I mean that, not once has it ever crashed on me. I even dropped it from 4 feet by accident onto a tile floor and no issues.

    Does that mean it didn’t crash on you? No. Does it mean all M7’s crash? No it does not. Anecdotal at best.

    Perhaps tell us how it crashed and when and we may be able to help you.

    Reply
  10. Headfonics

    Sorry Vasyl I find your comments offensive and misleading. We have tried to be nice with you and work with your concerns but each time you somehow manage to be insulting and disrespectful, there we have no choice but to ban you from the site. Perhaps you can do this on another site of your choosing, but not here.

    Reply
  11. Headfonics

    I think you missed an entire section in our x1 gen 2 and x3 gen 3 review, so I shall copy it here

    Category Scanning (X1)

    Scanning on the new X1 was pretty slow by mid-fi DAP standards taking an almost glacial 10 minutes to find and categorize 2250 FLAC tracks from the SD card. Compare that to Cayin’s $499 i5 which takes about 20 seconds you can pretty much forget about rapid file transfer, update and go. Instead, make a cup of tea and come back later. That being said once it is completed I found it pretty accurate in tag reading and most, if not all, tracks were correctly classified.We usually have a DAP from one to 2 months before we review it.

    Here is our X3iii section also

    Category

    Scanning on the new X3iii was much faster than the X1ii. Given they have the same processor I can only presume better optimization of the code from FiiO. It is still sluggish by mid-fi DAP standards taking 5 minutes and 42 seconds to update the media library with 2544 16BIT 44.1k FLAC files compared to 1 minute and 20 seconds on the X5iii.

    Reply
  12. Vasyl and yulia

    Well I can’t say yet, but your website made no mention about this problem and x1 or X3, infact I bought the X3 based on the reviews I read here, so it really makes me wonder, how do you test your devices? Do you really listen to them? Longer then 30 minutes? I understand you guys market these things to us but why doesn’t your reviews say anything about these problems, the only negative comment on X3 was that sometimes the UI was ” hit or miss” but didn’t say anything about it freezing and crashing every 45 minutes to an hour, or how extremely slow the library refresh is, didn’t mention the fiio doesn’t update much or that even if you change memory card for 32 gig it still crashes during library refresh. So I bought it and lost $50 trying to sell it as quick as possible because it was awful, and the x1 was barely usable, hard to connect to the Bluetooth speakers and crashed even more often, so let’s be realistic, you won’t tell us the truth, even if it’s programing did fail horribly

    Reply
  13. Headfonics

    FiiO just stated this evening on Twitter the M7 will have updates (additional features). However what updates are you looking for on the M7? I have yet to encounter a single freeze or bug in 4 months. Is it the feature set you are speaking about?

    Reply
  14. Vasyl and yulia

    Do you think they will have any updates? Because most of there line up didn’t get many, seems fiio pays allot for marketing but not much on keeping there devices running well, so far cayin, ibasso and even zishan had more updates and less bugs then the 2 fiio’s I have had, and you guys had gave the m3 a fairly good review but when I tried it at the store the UI was really terrible, I understand this is a bit different but a company that releases such players with so many bugs and doesn’t update or fix these problems, shouldn’t be supported in the audiophile community

    Reply
  15. Vasyl and yulia

    Hope it doesn’t freeze and crash like the x1 ii or the X3 iii, I am scared to even try it, already lost money on the first 2 attempts, so far my wife’s Catlin n3 and my zishan dsd both sound better then the X3 and cost allot less, and don’t freeze and crash much if at all

    Reply

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