Fiio seems like it’s on rapid-fire lately, for better or worse. One of the more compelling high-res digital audio players (DAPs) in the audio wizard’s latest lineup in our opinion is the pleasingly compact M6. It sits in Fiio’s entry/mid-level range of DAPs, but packs features reaching much higher, especially compared to similar-class devices on the market and even the company’s M7 player (which has quickly gotten overshadowed, showing that too fast growth is not the best thing).
Chances are that you’ve already checked out plentiful reviews and get the gist of this device. Rather than rehashing all that, this synopsis targets the most important points and criticisms worth knowing that often go unaddressed. Let’s get right to it….
> The size of the M6 in your hand is ridiculous (in the best way possible). It’s tiny in the scale of most smartphones these days, and its notably slimmed bezels and minimal design help the sentiment that we’re dealing with a well and very practically designed device.
> For reference, it’s pretty much the footprint of the Chord Mojo but thinner, which also makes the combo a very nice stack for transport. Actually, as we move forward with our points on the M6, we beg for mindfulness on how fantastic of a pairing this source is for a portable DAC/Amp stack.
> Sure there’s curvy 2.5D glass on the front that’s easy on the eyes but the M6 exterior is more of a standard (but metal) affair, which makes the inclusion of a practical, protective wrap-around case in the box that more appreciated. We imagine most audiophiles will slap on the case on there and forget about it rather than want admire the device’s design day-to-day. Function over fashion is the deal here.
> There’s plenty of reviews and spec-sheets that outline all the features. But the key differentiators that have a significant advantage in the day-to-day are as follows.
> Most devices can transmit music via Bluetooth, albeit not with the highest bandwidth LDAC codec. Fiio rightfully is putting LDAC capability in all its latest releases (even the tiny BTR3 Bluetooth DAC/amp receiver), and the M6 is no exception. Except, it can not only transmit but receive. This means one can send the audio stream from their Android phone in LDAC quality (sorry iOS users, but more on this in a sec) to the M6 to play content from it – no wires needed. This even includes if you’re sending the transmission to an external DAC/amp, which is fantastic.
> Fiio doesn’t leave iOS users in the dust. There’s also AirPlay compatibly on-board (which can play up to 44.1 kHz, 16-bit quality), which is crazy for an Android-based device.
> Coming from the M7 and M9, Fiio’s software could use a little updating. It does what it needs to but feels very bare-bones. This especially goes for Fiio’s own music app. Sifting through your music feels like using a file manager. It definitely works, just not very pleasing to use.
> Along these lines, we’re not sure if it’s the software or Exynos chip, but software navigation and scrolling feels a bit sluggish. There’s no freezing thank goodness, but the small delays between executions can add up.
> In the same sentiment, it’s clear that Fiio is pulling just what it needs from the Android OS to be the HiFi music player that it is. We can stand behind not needing a full-fledged Android device in this case. It’s important to know this means Fiio must make most of the music streaming apps out there accessible (white-listed), which was a sore spot in the past but rectified mostly as of late. You can find the lengthy list of supported apps and links to their apk’s (for manually installing) here.
> The ESS SABRE 9018Q2C DAC/Amp is a reasonable choice for this size/class of player (actually the same chip as the M7 but with marginally better efficiency in SNR and power output). Meaning that it’s respectable but you could definitely do better. That shows in real sound testing as well. Details are plentiful but not so much micro-details. Similarly, there’s clarity to display clear separation, but depth and extension aren’t anything to write home about.
> There’s a balance of the frequency response to speak of, with the upper treble’s crispness being the most stand-out. Mids to lower treble are articulated but notably smooth, laying back the details a tad. The low-end is tighter than deep – more punch from mid-bass than rumble from sub-bass.
> Fiio has long been efficient when it comes to a low-noise floor. We can attest that we hear a black background with our highly sensitive 9 ohm Shure SE846. But be mindful that this doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with output impedance. The M6’s 2 ohm output impedance isn’t the best option for such super sensitive IEMs. On the other end, it’s also important to know that the M6 won’t drive notably high impedance headphones more than you’d imagine (Fiio recommends no more than 100 ohm headphones).
> Ultimately, the M6’s sound quality, while good, isn’t standout. Where the power lies is in its capabilities. External DAC/amps are a big market, because their flexibility for on-the-go HiFi. But tethering to your smartphone quickly makes the portable audio setup clunky. That’s a solution that something like the M6 is perfect for. It’s not just the size that gives it an advantage (for a clean stack with a portable DAC/amp), but that it can shoot over both microSD storage and HiFi streaming content. Furthermore is the unique Bluetooth receiver feature to send content over from a smartphone/tablet (in LDAC quality).
- Super compact chassis
- Two-way Bluetooth and LDAC support
- Android music streaming support
- Clean and detailed audio
- Software could use refining
- No Balanced output
- SABRE 9018Q2C DAC/amp a bit behind
- Sound quality is great but not fantastic
The Fiio M6 has more going for it than not. It’s important not to think of it as a TOTL device, but a convenient, bang-for-the-buck one. It’s pleasingly compact and priced well too. The audio is certainly in the “HiFi” realm but just inside the door. We see the M6 as a great gateway into higher fidelity listening. However, something has to be said for grand flexibility of this tiny guy (minus Balanced output). It’s so easy to carry around if you want something better sounding than a smartphone or computer, or can make for an awesome, compact transport for those with an external portable DAC.
Also See: Fiio M9 HiFi Audio Player Synopsis