Sound Impressions

Tonality & Presentation

Normally I talk about amp noise in our matching section but this has to be worth kicking off our sound impressions because it is the first thing you will notice when you use the M7, especially with sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda and Shure’s SE846.

Black Background

In short, this is very quiet DAP, possibly the lowest noise floor on any FiiO DAP to date. I am going to presume this is an evolution of moving away from their traditional opamp based analog designs to the new integrated digital amp and LPF filter stage inside the M7.

Analog designs will always have a level of noise that is often filtered through implementation such mute relays, absurdly high output impedance, low gain settings or less sensitive gear. Digital amps are usually a bit quieter. For example, the Sony NW-A35 uses a digital amp and I have always regarded it to be one of the best noise performers in the budget DAP entry. Not anymore.

To be fair the output power is not that high on the M7 at 40mW into a 32Ω load which may help subdue any possible latent hiss or noise. Also, my fears of the 2Ω output impedance seem largely moot when tested with the Andromeda because the presentation is largely true to the core frequency response of CA’s hypersensitive IEM. If there is a kickback from the 2Ω output impedance I would have heard a little more sharpness on the Andromeda which I honestly did not hear any.


And boy does this silence make a difference to the enjoyment of the M7 with all but the most demanding IEMs. The presentation is refreshingly natural to slightly warm sounding with a sliver of mid-bass emphasis and enough body to create some satisfying fullness to its instrumental timbre.

Textural detail is a little on the light side, especially on the bass response but not to a level I would consider overly one-dimensional. Mids are open sounding with excellent instrumental separation and a positioning that I would describe as fairly neutral and accurate. Vocals performances, both male and female, offer next to no sibilance or sharp overtones with a largely neutral tone.

Treble performance on the M7 is nothing like the old ES9018Q2M implementations. You will find no glare or sharp sounding partial overtones from an exaggerated top-end response on this tuning. Across a wide variety of IEMs, it sounds smooth, controlled and frankly quite an easy non-fatiguing experience. In the hands of an Andromeda, it still extends rather well but not on the level of the X7ii or iBasso’s DX150.


Now if I take you back to the start of the year and the Cayin N5ii review, I had remarked how well companies were now tuning that ES9018Q2M DAC to be anything but sterile and sharp. Well, FiiO has done one also with the M7.

The detail retrieval is quite good, ably helped by that black background that offers more than a decent level of dynamic range to play with. But more than that, the tuning is spot on for both audiophile and casual listener with very little overtly distracting coloration except that slight injection of low-end warmth. It simply gets ‘out of the way’ is the best simplest way to describe the presentation.

FiiO M7


Bluetooth Performance

BT performance was measured with the FiiO BTR3, CA Andromeda/AAW Pola and Hum Pristine IEMs as well as the Beyer aptX-HD capable Amiron wireless.

The BTR3 uses an AK4376A DAC and a built-in Qualcomm amp and BT chipset. It has a slightly warmer signature than the M7 with a bit less air and treble extension. It is not that powerful

Distance and strength of Signal

As good as my LG G6 with an almost equal level of signal strength and distance before drop-out occurred.  We did notice however that performance is somewhat related to the receiver or BT powered headgear you are using.

With the BTR3 the strength of signal and distance was excellent and much better than the more expensive Birdy from Earsonics which had some drop out at half the distance. We estimated around 8-10 meters or 6-8 meters with a wall in-between the M7 and receiver.

Using the Beyer Amiron headset in aptX and aptX-HD we got no difference in signal attenuation with the exact same distance as our LG G6 smartphone and crystal clear audio with no dropouts.

FiiO M7

aptX-HD Amiron Wireless

LDAC vs aptX HD vs aptX

Using the BTR3 with the Andromeda and switching between the different codecs the difference is noticeable between LDAC and the aptX codecs using the M7 as a BT source.

Moving from aptX to aptX-HD the tonal balance remains relatively the same which is a slightly warmish low-end boost, clear vocals, and a gentle treble presence. The presentation is not as detailed as wired in aptX mode but it does start to show a nice level of refinement and better dynamic range with aptX-HD on the BTR3. You start to hear a little more soundstage depth and better low-end impact.

Moving from aptX-HD to LDAC the dynamic range gets a huge lift with far superior clarity, a more accurate instrumental timbre (slightly more neutral) and better detail retrieval. This is very close in technical capability to the wired sound save for the tonal differences of the integrated amp and DAC of the BTR3. This is a presentation I could happily live with for IEMs.

Select Comparisons

FiiO X3 Mark III



The X3 Mark III was released around a year ago and is the 3rd gen of their first ever DAP to hit the market many years ago. It has some touch features such as the scroll-wheel but is otherwise an entirely physical non-touch screen experience.

The X3 mark III is positioned as an audiophile DAP with features such as balanced output, dual DAC (TI PCM5242), USB-DAC, coaxial and line out. The X3iii also has Bluetooth but no aptX never mind LDAC. It also does not do OTG audio nor does it have a radio. Its wireless features are not as good as wired. The software is built on a Linux platform in-house and fairly basic, a bit slow but quite well featured. Battery life is much lower than the M7 at around 8-10 hours depending on usage.

DAC & Power

The M7 will do BT 4.2, aptX, aptX-HD, and LDAC, has a touchscreen, Android 5.1, FM Radio and line out. It does not have balanced and the DAC implementation is single as opposed to dual.  Its decoding is lower at DSD64 max compared to DSD128 on the X3iii. However, the ES9018Q2M is more than capable and just as good as the TI PCM5242 though the integrated amp of the M7 is much weaker and less resolving at just 40mW into a 32Ω load compared to 160mW single-ended and 190mW balanced for the X3 Mark III.

FiiO X3 Mark III


The big difference outside of tonality is noise on the X3iii. It is much higher than the M7 with sensitive IEMs. To control this either wear less sensitive gear or get an IEMatch cable (balanced or unbalanced). The M7 is dead quiet with a very black background though once you go up in power it starts to sound a bit weaker with higher impedance gear than the X3iii.

Tonally, the X3iii is warmer, thicker sounding and perhaps showing better texture and detail than the M7. However, the M7 is more transparent to my ears with a cleaner sound signature with just a hint of low-end warmth and respectable body. It is not as detailed but it is more lively and involving sounding with a better tonal balance.

The black background does help deliver a better sense of depth and layering despite the slight lack of detail on the M7. With the X3iii you might get more low-end density but the vocal performance is a little too far back and treble is also a bit darker sounding than the M7. BT 4.2 LDAC is so much better than the X3iii’s non-aptX capability, light years ahead in sound quality.

Comparatively speaking, and despite it not being a purely “audiophile” pitched DAP, I find the M7 to have a much more appealing sound signature both wired and wireless.

Shanling M2s



The Shanling M2s is similarly priced SRP to the M7 with a non-touch control system, HiBy OS with BT4.2 which is bi-directional using HiBy Music Link to smartphones. It also has aptX capability but no LDAC or aptX-HD compared to the M7.


It uses an AK4490EQ DAC chipset with higher decoding rates than the M7 including DSD256 and PCM 32BIT/384k. It is also has a more powerful amp output at 130mW @ 32Ω. However, its output impedance is 4Ω and it will affect the tonal bias or low-Z skew of efficient IEMs more than the 2Ω M7 output. The line out on the M2s is a bit more powerful at 2V compared to 1.2V on the M7. Both have OTG audio capability, however, the M2s also offer USB-DAC capability which the M7 cannot do.

Battery & Memory

Battery life is a bit lower on the M2s at 10 hours compared to the M7’s 15-20 hour potential. It also has a single MicroSD slot but no onboard memory (M7 has 2Gb). The OS is fairly basic and awkward to navigate but fairly well featured.

Shanling M2s


First and foremost, if you are using sensitive IEMs the M2s will require an iFi Audio IEMatch 2.5mm or 3.5mm cable to reduce the high output impedance mismatch and retain tonal control. For example, on the Andromeda, you will lose bass density and enhance top-end presence which makes it too bright. The IEMatch cable will attenuate volume by a few dB but otherwise, give you a more accurate sound.

You do not have to worry about this with the M7 which is accurate, transparent and actually delivers a wonderfully black background with the Andromeda. It is fair to mention that the M2S also has a nice black background once you get the low-Z skew out of the way.


Tonally, the M2S is more musical with a bit more low-end emphasis, texture, and detail and a warmer vocal presence. The M7 is a bit more linear in that respect. It does have some mid-bass warmth but it is not as solid or as dense sounding as the M2s. You do get a fairly typical Ak4490EN sound with the M2s in that sense though not as aggressive as the more powerful Cayin i5.

The M7 does have a bit more treble presence and energy and a little more air than the M2s. Tested on the CA Lyra II it felt the M7 was a little cleaner and nippier, especially in the mids with better width and height though the depth and sub-bass presence belongs to the M2s.

HiBy Music R3



The R3 was released earlier this year to much fanfare and costs $30 more than the M7. It is tiny compared to the M7, quite beautifully designed also with a fantastic touchscreen and HiBy’s own touch OS. Of the two the R3 wins the design stakes though the M7 is much more robust and looks like it will take a few more knocks than the R3.


The R3 uses the latest ES9028Q2M DAC chipset with a decoding rate of  DSD256 and PCM 384kHz/32bit compared to the M7’s ES9018Q2M’s 24BIT/192k and DSD64 capability. It is marginally more powerful at 56+56mW @32Ω  compared to the M7 40mW but also has balanced at 112mW which gives it a flexible edge over the M7. It has less than 1Ω output impedance compared to the M7’s 2Ω. Both are dead quiet for noise on sensitive IEMs.


Both have excellent BT codecs with both DAPs capable of aptX and LDAC though the R3 has no aptX-HD support. The R3 does have bi-directional HiBy link support for smartphones. Both have OTG audio though the R3 can dual as a USB-DAC whereas the M7 cannot.


The R3 does not have FM radio but it does have WiFi which is a big difference maker. It will allow you to stream TIDAL and use the R3 as part of a DLNA service. You can also upgrade the R3 firmware via WiFi whereas the M7 you will need a PC first to download and move the file to the memory card before upgrading.


The OS on both DAPs is excellent though the R3 is slightly faster and quicker to navigate. Some might prefer the additional screen real estate that the M7 bigger screen offers for big thumbs. The MSEB DSP in the R3 is a definite difference maker allowing you to fine tune the sound of the DAP into almost anything you want. Much superior to the M7 EQ.

HiBy Music R3


Both have excellent black backgrounds with efficient IEMs and next to no noise. On this, they are on equal footing. Both use Sabre DACs so they do veer more to the neutral than overly warm. However, the R3 is simply the more detailed and refined of the two with better dynamic range and micro detail retrieval. Its MSB DSP can also change the timbre at a swipe also going from warm to cold with a slide of a button. It is quite fantastic listening to the changes MSEB can bring to the R3.

To its credit, the M7 is a bit more aggressive sounding than the R3 and a little fuller sounding. Vocals are a little further forward also. On sheer immediacy, the M7 is the more attention seeking with a bit more mid-bass impact and a slightly fuller sound. However, it is a sound that is not quite as detailed as the R3’s slightly more neutral sound. In particular, the R3 timbre sounds the more accurate and life-like of the two and its treble also has a bit more extension and articulation.

The M7, by contrast, has a slightly harder edge to its upper mids and lower treble. Not a huge amount and by far one of the softest 9018 implementations at this price point but in comparison to that 9028Q2M in the R3 you will notice it.

FiiO M7

Our Verdict

I suspect the M7 is a DAP that best underlines FiiO’s leading management team’s previous mobile phone experience and know-how. It is the DAP that also most succinctly conveys where FiiO genuinely believe portable audio is going. The implementation of the Sabre DAC is clean sounding with just a hint of musicality to make it enjoyable without leaving more demanding audiophile tastes behind. It is also bloody good with sensitive IEMs, their quietest DAP to date.

It is also the best DAP for Bluetooth audio to date. Sure, quite a few DAPs have LDAC now and it is awesome, but not all of them, if any can boast aptX-HD also. Quite a lot of audio gear with BT receivers such as the Beyer Amiron Wireless use aptX-HD and to leave that may lower costs but leave a glaring gap in decoding ability. All I can say is FiiO dare not release a new X-Series DAP in the future without LDAC and aptX-HD, it would be madness to leave it out based on the M7 performance.

Their only problem with the M7 is their own X-series which is still available at the time of writing. Does it compete? Despite the different marketing and long-term vision of the M-series being the primary DAP range, yes, the X-series does compete. The price point is the same as the X3iii SRP so you are faced with a choice until they phase out the X3iii. Mine is the M7 and it could be yours also. Is that good for FiiO? Only time will tell but I do think the M7 feature-pitch is the more popular and appealing one going forward.

FiiO M7 Technical Specifications

To read more on the M7 specs you can click here

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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

    • 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.

  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.

  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 ?

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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.

  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


    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.

  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

  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?

  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

  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


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