Internal Hardware

DAC

The FiiO M9 uses the same dual AK4490EN DAC implementation as their highly acclaimed Q5 and the older X5iii DAP.  This is a change in direction from the ES9018Q2M though both are roughly on the same level. Not exactly new DAC chips but competent workhorses and an implementation, when done right, can be highly musical and engaging.

Decoding, however, is limited to up to DSD128 and PCM 192 kHz/24BIT which is a step down from the DSD256 and 384kHz / 24BIT capability of the Q5. The older X5iii also tops out at DSD128 but can decode PCM a higher 384kHz / 24BIT. I can only infer from this that the limit is derived from the Exynos 7270 processing capacity rather than any deliberate marketing differentiation.

Amp

The amp stage is a separate analog design as opposed to the M7’s reliance on the ES9018Q2M integrated amp and LPF solution. The stage is all Texas Instruments with an OPA1611 for the low pass filter and two OPA1622 chips for the buffer.

The M9 will deliver a lot more power than the M7 as a result with up to 170mW into a 32Ω single-ended compare to the rather meager 40mW into the same load for the M7. The M9’s balanced will go a little higher at 195mW into the same load so not a powerhouse but you can opt for turbo mode and push it up to 220mW (per channel). Turbo mode is designated as “balanced boost” in the main Android Audio settings menu.

Bluetooth

FiiO has sensibly stuck with the same excellent Bluetooth module as they stuck in the M7. This is a Samsung S5N5C10B01-6330 chipset which offers BT 4.2 including AAC, aptX and ap-HD decoding as well as LDAC and HWA.

LDAC and HWA are wonderful by the way. It is highly recommended you pick up FiiO’s BTR3 just to hear the difference between aptX and LDAC, like night and day on good quality IEMs. EVen sourcing from an LDAC capable smartphone is an engaging listen with the M9.

FiiO M9

Home Screen

Software

Platform

As with the M7, FiiO continues with a heavily skinned version of Android 5.1 on the M9.  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’s own theme which does change the user experience heavily.

Some things we take for granted on Android are not on the M9 UI. You 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.

FiiO has also brought back the quintessential Android drop-down menu scheme which greatly enhanced the UI experience and quick navigational features of the M9. You can also use it on the M7 via the latest firmware.

FiiO M9

TIDAL

FiiO M9

MOOV

FiiO M9

KKBOX

Apps Compatibility

You also have a closed garden approach to apps. FiiO has deployed a white-list system for approved apps you can sideload via their website and you do get 8 cooked into the OS out of the box. The 8 includes:

  • FiiO Player
  • File management
  • Gallery app for image and wallpaper management
  • Technical Support
  • KKbox (South East Asian music streaming service)
  • TIDAL
  • Netease Music (a Chinese freemium music streaming service)
  • MOOV – (Hong Kong digital streaming service)

Additional approved apps that you can download (FW1.03 and above only)include:

The FiiO implementation does not seem to fully support Android multitasking. My FiiO Music player does not stop when I access another non-streaming app but it does come to a halt when I access streaming apps such as TIDAL so there are some task shutdowns occurring relating to audio priority on the M9.

FiiO M9

Developer Options

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 tap on the build number row 7 times and you are in.

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.

FiiO M9

Drop-Down Bar

FiiO M9

Drop-Down Options

Navigation

Because of the way FiiO has themed Android and simplified it the UI the M9 is generally much simpler to use. However, like the M7, the M9 is a little more limited than your average smartphone Android 5.1 navigational experience.

The M9 does have the drop-down menu bar which does have a clear advantage over the older M7 firmware’s insistence on forcing you to drill down into the settings menu for everything. You no longer have to drop out of any app you are using to access features such as WiFi, BT, filter settings, gain, and their new AirPlay feature.

Features

FiiO Player

Upgrades

Aside from the streaming apps allowed, the FiiO Player app is the main platform for media management and audio playback on the M9. Although the app is now almost the same on the M7, it has gone through some upgrades since we last looked at it on the M7.  In fact, some of the options now make this a killer app on any DAP never mind FiiO.

Among the upgrades includes a brand new DLNA feature tapping into the M9’s WiFi capability, (not on M7), a WiFi song transfer much like the HiBy Music app (again not on the M7), and HWA  for Bluetooth playback.

FiiO Link (smartphone)

FiiO Link

Similar to HiByLink, FiiO has also introduced their own version called FiiO Link. Here you can link up with any other device using the FiiO Pure Player app via BT and control either the M9 via the other device or vice versa using a server/client link-up option.

And my it works smooth as you like. Tested it with a Huawei P20 and so long as you have both Link options switched on they will automatically pair (providing they have been paired before).

You get a deep level of control also via the app so technically I can browse my M9 media from my P20 app, control, switch on gapless, and play through folders. It is short of file manipulation such as you get in HiByLink, for example, and you cannot yet delete or add to playlists.

FiiO M9

Player Home Screen

FiiO M9

Playback Screen

FiiO M9

Meta Data

Playback

There has been no change for playback options in the main FiiO Player app since we last reviewed the M7 as far as I can see outside of a small SQ label on the track being played. The key changes are more in the settings menu options.

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 a quick start tagline at the bottom of the media library screen to allow you instant access to whatever you are playing right now.

Drop-Down Enhancements

The one salient feature that has eased the use of the playback functionality is the drop-down menu. Quick access to features such as gain and line-out really do enhance the ease of use of the FiiO player on the M9 compared to the older firmware linear route on the M7. The new M7 firmware also brings back the drop-down menu which is a nice bonus.

The tagging of the player’s strapline for quick playback to the drop-down menu also speeds up access when using other non-media apps.

Wireless

Because the M9 has a WiFi feature quite a lot of the enhancements over the M7 are via the wireless protocols. Features include DLNA, WiFi song transfer, FiiO Link, and enhanced HWA BT capability (now on M7 with the latest firmware).

FiiO M9

DLNA Media server

FiiO M9

DLNA Folder listing

FiiO M9

Additional Options

DLNA

I cannot praise the M9 FiiO Player’s DLNA functionality highly enough, perhaps more so than the HiByLink which seems to have a slower buffer on large media libraries compared to the FiiO app. It is very well executed. The interfacing with my own Plex media server on my laptop was fast and the buffer rate, at least for 44.1K 16BIT FLAC was super low when initiating playback.

You also get a few more options than some of the more basic DLNA media clients with options such as Music Channels, recommendations, shared and remote music if you use those on your main server. You can even select according to the BIT rate of the tracks you are streaming which is a nice touch.

FiiO M9

WiFi Song Transfer

WiFi Song Transfer

The WiFi Song transfer option is another brilliant service and it seems to have more functionality and polish than the HiBy Music equivalent. As with the HiBy Music app, you do need access to a browser. From there type in the prompted IP address of the M9 and simply select the batch of tracks you want to transfer via WiFi from the PC to the DAP.

If I was to make one recommendation is to give the feature an option to download to an SD Card rather than the onboard memory since there is only 2GB of onboard storage thus limiting your ability to upload a ton of tracks.

You can also transfer from the M9 to the PC also. The speed is quite fast actually, faster than the HiBy Music app equivalent and for the most part, you can play all the music you like during transfer. I do get the odd interruption when it starts transferring a new track but apart from that a very handy and well-executed feature.

FiiO M9

BT main Menu

FiiO M9

Receiving LDAC

Bluetooth

All the BT features of the M7 remain on the M9. That means the excellent range of codecs for transmitting and from the most recent firmware the ability now to receive at the highest LDAC rate. FiiO has also added HWA transmitting capability on both players though only inside the main FiiO Player.

You can optionally work the FiiO link via BT for full remote control or simply make a regular BT connection to receive an LDAC signal from another compatible source. Our P20 pairing was seamless, to be honest, and it picked up the M9 as an LDAC compatible pairing right away with minimal lag.

The performance was excellent using the M9 as a source. I think its the furthermost I have managed to get away from my smartphone without the signal breaking up.

Click On Page 3 below for Sound Impressions & Matchability

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26 Responses

  1. George Bogdan Crisan
    5

    Why doesn’t anybody mention the HORRIFIC input lag that comes up while using this M9 as an USB DAC for about two years now?

    I really want an answer because that particular lag is unacceptable to a 300$ device that praises itself as a USB DAC capability device.

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    Reply
    • Marcus

      Quite a lot of DAP’s in DAC mode have input lag. Even high-end ones. However, what I have noticed is that the lag varies according to the media used and its audio sample rate. We have been testing TWS for half a year now via VLC which has a nice audio sync option to tighten up on the lag on those devices.

      However, the amount being tightened up varies from media file to media file with some requiring nothing and some requiring a lot. Sometimes the encoding of the file can determine the amount of lag.

      Have you emailed FiiO also?

      Reply
  2. Bob Kay

    Just purchased the M9. I like it, but creating play lists is way too much work. Also lookng for a good forum that supports M9 users. The Fiio site just gets “lost in translation”! Suggestions for either are very much welcomed.

    Reply
  3. aigo

    Hello, I’m using a Fiio X5 II, and I cannot say I really like the sound from it. It is somewhat thin, edgy, and shouty when played louder. Would M9 be good or any update to X5 II, or should I look at something else? Like Sony NWZ variants, for example.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      If you want a richer sound I suggest the HiBy R5 though staging is more intimate. The DX160 is quite neutraL also but the slight softness on the notes gives it a smooth delivery. M9 is going to be a bit steely still and edgy on the upper mids.

      Reply
      • aigo

        How would you compare it to X5 III? I read somewhere that Fiio are no longer updating it. If correct.
        I will be reading about HiBy R5 now, good hint, thank you.

      • Marcus

        I do not think the M9 is an advantage over the X5iii, to be honest. The M11 is the better bet but it a clean spacious sound.

  4. Alexander

    Hi, I’m using a Fiio X5 II. I really like its sound. But I want to upgrade. Especially WiFi and Bluetooth is interesting for me. Would the M9 be an upgrade soundwise?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Depends if you like the timbre of the X5ii, which from memory, was fairly neutral. The M9 is more colored. For sure though you need to upgrade by now, WiFi and BT are almost essential.

      Reply
      • Alexander

        Thank you! Yes, the X5ii is fairly neutral and airy. If you could choose between M9 and X7 (1st) which ones would you take? Which one has the better resolution and the more neutral sound? AptxHD and 5GHz Wifi are not necessary. (I use FH5, you wrote, they fit very well with the m9.)

      • Marcus

        Probably the X7 first gen. It is still an open android platform and not a whitelisted garden wall and you do get plenty of amp cards including the latest THX cards which are supposed to be excellent.

  5. Tahjae

    Looking into getting the M9. New to the Dap community, so not to sure if this is good for beginners. I am coming from the apple IPod touch 6th gen. Will this work with an mac laptop? If so what program would I use. Also is it easy to create playlists on the computer or?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Sadly, I do not have a Mac to test but if you mean DAC I do not see why not as it is based on standard Android protocols and drivers (just with a FiiO skin) so it should be picked up by the universal 2.0 driver on Macs. As a beginner it is perfectly fine for audio but if you want a full Android experience you might not get it. The M11 from FiiO is apparently a huge step up and a full Android experience. It will read from cue sheets also if you use them or create them.

      Reply
  6. Marcos

    Hey! Thinking about wireless sound performance, is the m9 a lot superior than the fiio BTR3? I just need sth small to play via Bluetooth when I can’t be bothered to get all the cables and gears to listen to good music on the go.

    Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Just to be clear – you want the M9 to act as receiver same as BTR3? Can I ask then if you are using the same headgear and what your source transmitting device will be?

      Often the quality of data (inc distance) will be determined by the source and what codec both support. If all things are equal it comes down to how the digital signal is converted to analog and in that case, the M9 analog output is better than the BTR3’s analog output.

      Reply
      • Marcos

        Thanks for the reply Marcus. So basically I have a note 9 that I use to play in rhe USB player through my Mojo in my iem or speakers.

        All my songs are in the SD card of my phone, and that’s very convenient, although sometimes having to plug a cable and holding the boxy Mojo on the go or having to leave my phone by my speakers really puts me off.

        I’d like the best portable Bluetooth experience I could get (I know it won’t be a Mojo experience) through LDAC. So I’m torned between buying a portable DAP with bidirectional Bluetooth (such as the HiBy R3 or the M9, although the latter is a bit chunky) or settle on the BTR3 (or HiBy W5.

        I guess all of that to ask: the LDAC – analog output in the R3 or in the M9 (M7?) is so much better to justify the extra investment and size? Or any other suggestion?

        (sorry for the long comment) =P

      • Marcus

        Have you thought about the M5 from FiiO or Shanling M0? Both of them receive LDAC, both are tiny DAPs and both output an analog signal from any BT incoming. Cheaper than either but the quality of analog is still by same traditional standards of power, impedance, and tone. R3 is top there for analog, then M9, then M5 but the M5 is under $100 and does the same job as the BTR3. Ie. you can hook it up to any IEM and use it to receive a signal.

  7. Isaac Harkness

    Hey Marcus,

    I’m looking at getting a dap that I will primarily use with the Meze 99 classic and their 12 classic in-ears. I would use the wifi and bluetooth features for sure. The thing that intrigues me about this player this the 2.5 balanced out. I’m considering going balanced for my 99s, buying the upgrade cable and all that. Do you think there would be a noticeable upgrade from going balanced, or am I better off at looking at something cheaper without that feature?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Balanced on the M9 means more power and you will hear it as being slightly louder, punchier and more dynamic range. The Meze Classic is fairly easy to drive so the M9 should be fine with them.

      Reply
  8. Sebastian

    I went with the N5ii since it was on sale for $250 and wondered if I would regret my decision.

    Fast forward 3 weeks later, I got to try out the M9 and to summarise I’m very happy I with the N5ii.

    It sounds more lively and detailed than the warmer and less resolving M9.

    Reply
  9. claudy

    luckly for me to grab at DX120 over M9, since i don’t use all it wifi & bluetooth connection, just want a decent dap to play musics & bring out the soul of the songs in me.
    no regret now.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      For pure audio yes it does outperform. For those that need connectivity, I would point them to the M9 otherwise.

      Reply

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