Overall, the highly responsive and feature-rich UI plus the hardware features come together as an enjoyable product experience, marking the M11 Plus ESS as one of the most versatile players in sound with a modern and appealing design to go along with it.
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Following last year’s FiiO M11 Plus LTD DAP, FiiO announced the launch of the M11 Plus ESS version this year which includes a DAC overhaul of the original AKM-based player.
There was always going to be a Sabre edition of this unit as sure as night follows day with the now very limited availability of AKM DAC chipsets. It also follows fast in the footsteps of their other products which are getting the ESS treatment such as the K9 Pro ESS.
It stays relatively true to the M11 series of DAPs being the smaller cousin of the beefier M17 though the internals are somewhat different. There is no real price increase either at $699.99 so that is a welcome bonus in a world of spiraling costs.
Featuring Android 10 and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 with 8 Kyro cores running at 2.2GigaHertz, the M11 Plus is one of the smoothest Android DAPs in the market. There are 4GB ram and 64GB ROM inside so it could handle multiple tasks and applications like a smartphone and operates very smoothly across different audio-related apps.
Decoding & Amplification
Another major technical appeal is the dual THX AAA-78 amping circuits which aim to bring about an immersive live-concert-like experience. We have been convinced by several other implementations on FiiO’s machine already having the THX amping module to deliver high resolving power, expansive staging, and balanced tuning.
Aside from that, FiiO has put in their 4th GEN FPGA controller and NDK Femtoclock, providing a high precision clock source for the audio architecture and lowering jitter. FiiO also redesigned the audio pathways around the new Sabre implementation and we can see them switching to OPA927 from OPA1642.
Surprisingly, the M11 Plus ESS version is capable of outputting 660mW into 32Ω load and scores a stunning ≥126dB in SNR, which is comparably higher than the 588mW max output and ≥120.5dB SNR on the older LTD version, whilst at the same time still managing to boost playback time by more than 40%.
Other features include a 2A DC boost/flyback converter, enhanced temperature management with customized silica gel, and graphene pastes. It also uses nickel silver heat sinks to assist with heat dissipation and offer better working conditions to its chipsets in order to boost their performance.
To further bring down the noise the M11 Plus ESS has metallic shields covering key components and also separates the digital and analog sections for interference reduction.
The M11 Plus ESS version measures exactly the same as the LTD version at 136.6mm X 75.7mm X 17.6mm. The aesthetics are just right for anyone to grab it on the go and the almost bezel-less screen on the finely machined satin black chassis is a pleasure to the eyes.
You can customize the behavior of the LED on the on/off button and I really like these interactive options that make the product experience much more fun and intimate.
The techy honeycomb-themed bodywork on the M11 Plus LTD version with a touch-sensitive slider for volume control remains but gets a facelift on the M11 Plus ESS version. Below the slider, there is a multi-function button that you can hold to enter an express menu which is very handy.
The case-back design is also inherited from the M11 Plus LTD but it is not identical in color. The back panel has a “diamond-cut” glass design that bounces light off in a mesmerizing way and the blue tint on the ESS version is stronger than on the LTD version.
The outline on the M11 Plus series is visually very appealing and that’s why I don’t use the leather case when listening to it at home.
The 5,5 inch 720*1440 screen used on the M11 Plus ESS seems to be the same panel as we have seen on the M11 Plus LTD but is toned slightly cooler. There is good pixel density and brightness so it is quite legible under the sun with plenty of detail for streaming visual content.
With a rather big screen and metallic body the M11 Plus ESS is still easy to carry and light enough to be held in the hand, measuring just 295g.
Like the other FiiO DAPs, we have the 3D rendered circuit wallpaper preloaded again, but perhaps you could spot some differences in internal layout between the M11 Plus LTD and the M11 Plus ESS from the wallpapers?
2-Way Slider Volume Control
This advanced feature on the M11 Plus ESS gets even better with a faux carbon overhaul, it feels more textured and is more scratch-resistant than the original design.
In the OS settings, users can change the behavior of the knob and choose to use it as a touch panel, or for click control like usual buttons. You can also set the volume ceiling and auto-lock to avoid accidental presses. The volume has 120 digital steps and works great for sensitive IEMs.
The body of the M11 Plus ESS has a consistent, stealthy black design. With the leather case on there are no other colors on the exterior of the DAP, just black. Jacks on the lower side are aligned on the same axis and the design is kept clean and effective.
Aside from 3.5mm, 4.4mm, and 2.5mm balanced connections users can also hook up to other sources via the supplied SPDIF converter cable. For example, outputting a 32BIT/384kHz signal to the FiiO K9 Pro ESS with a SPDIF input. You can also the M11 Plus ESS’s lineout function via 4.4mm directly into the K9 Pro ESS 4.4mm line-in.
With the USB-C socket, you can connect to other external USB audio devices or thumb drives to read not just audio content but also photos or videos. And of course, the USB port also supports QC4.0 fast charge at 27W and USB 3.0 transfer speed at 90MB/sec.
With the same 6000mAh Li-polymer battery from the M11 Plus LTD, the M11 Plus ESS has surprised me with 40% more playback time on balanced mode, meaning that you will get 14 hours on balanced with a single charge.
That doesn’t suggest that output power is weakened and in fact, the max output power is increased by 12% while more volume steps are provided for finer volume step control.
The actual power in the output is similar to the LTD version though it is not as warm and full in the midrange, so you may perceive the LTD as being more powerful on some IEMs.
The extra battery time practically enhances the experience and especially for daily commutes. The M11 Plus ESS gets fully charged in around 3.5 hours with QC4.0 quick charge supported and it is harder to drain even when switching on the ALL to DSD mode for hours.
Packaging & Accessories
FiiO’s latest techy packaging styling is also applied to the M11 Plus ESS retail packaging with an outline of the player imprinted reflecting a colorful spectrum at different angles.
Digging into the box, the M11 Plus LTD is pre-installed with a glass protector which is applied amazingly well. I was almost tricked into thinking that there was no screen protector there at all.
A leather case is also supplied and the quality seems enhanced from what I got from the M11 Plus LTD. The leather is slightly softer thus feeling more premium to the touch. This is perhaps one of the best stock leather cases being supplied with DAPs currently.
Inside the small compartment box, there is a coaxial adapter that can be hooked up to other decoders, a USB 3.0 cable, user manuals, and a pin pusher for the card slot.