Fiio has an ample range of music-dedicated players, from the basic and affordable X1 II to the feature packed, Android-driven X7 II. So we were intrigued by the company’s newly released M7 player. What does it bring to the table, and is a compact but high-powered player something that has been crucially missing? The moderate asking price of $200 furthers our questioning. This synopsis runs through the key details of the M7 player.
The M7 falls in line with Fiio’s other entry-level dedicated music players, most notably the X3 III with respect to size and price. But it technologically moves the line a big step forward with a button-less design and high-end features. Namely, we’re talking about a 3.2″ touchscreen display, SABRE ES9018Q2C DAC, USB-C port with USB audio out capability, and LDAC or aptX HD wireless audio codec support.
- Small and manageable
- High quality build
- Clean, touchscreen navigation
- HiFi wireless with either aptX HD or LDAC
- Great sound quality for size
- Sharp corners
- Screen quality leaves to be desired
- Slow software
- Pricey for a basic player
What it’s like to use
- Despite being outside of Fiio’s “X” series players, the M7 carries the same metal-clad DNA. It’s made from a block of Aluminum, quite literally, with the only deviations apart from the screen being the notch cut-out for the volume wheel and a small plastic insert at the top of the rear (assumingly for the antennas of the wireless components).
- It’s certainly compact as suggested, but not super compact like some other players. Specifically, while its slimness does great things for grip-ability, it’s tallness is notable. This is evident by the considerable bezel above and below the 3.2″ 16:9 display.
- Speaking of which, it’ll take a little time to get used to the placement of the display. It’s strangely offset downward, so we would often mistake up for down.
- As we’d expect for this kind of player, the M7 has the basics around its perimeter: common physical controls on the left, volume wheel, power button and standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the top (doubling for line-out as well), microSD card slot on the right (support up to 512GB), and charging port on the bottom.
- The volume wheel is just like what we felt on the higher-end Fiio X7 II DAP, albeit smaller. The volume steps reliably click into place, but like on the X7 II, there’s noticeable play between the steps (wiggle). We like a firmer wheel.
- This is the first player we’ve seen from Fiio to use the newer USB-C standard for the charging port, especially great a thing being that it’s a mid-range device. Fiio was also mindful to allow the port the USB digital audio out function. So you can use the M7 as a source for an external DAC if desired.
- The tallness of the device makes the top not be the most ideal placement for the power button. It’s a reach that takes an unnatural finger shift to press. Not a huge deal, but something to take note of because of how often it’s used.
- The M7 takes Fiio’s moderately priced players a big step forward in more ways. Physical button navigation is now dropped for the cleaner touchscreen method.
- The small (but not too small) 3.2″ 480×800 display suffices for a basic audio player. It isn’t meant for picture and videos (though, there is a Gallery app included). It merely gets the job done in regard to quality. The weakest point is with outdoor visibility, where it’s easily overtaken by daylight.
- It’s not advertised, but it’s apparent that M7’s software is run by Android. However, it’s a highly custom and closed-off build of the OS. You only have the few functions and settings that Fiio has coded – no access to the Play store or ability to install any other apps, unlike a full-on device like the X7 II DAP. This also means there’s no WiFi or music streaming support.
- Fiio forewent Android’s bottom navigation soft keys, instead coding the Back and Home buttons on the top left when in an app. There’s also no drop-down panel or quick settings. It’s an extremely minimal Android.
- The software as a whole is slow to respond (compared to current flagship smartphones). Coupled with the basic app layouts/aesthetics and some unintuitive buttons, it feels clunky. But to be fair, it’s what it needs to be to get the job done.
- The M7 has another bit of tech that one-ups it compared to Fiio’s previous players (as well as many of the competition) – high fidelity wireless audio. It in fact goes all out, not just sporting aptX HD wireless transfer rates but also Sony’s even higher LDAC codec. It’s awesome to have these options, and strengthens the M7’s stance as a capable HiFi player.
- As expected from being such a striped down version of Android, battery life is ample. We’re looking at about 20 hours of playback endurance, give or take depending on how much you use the screen or stream over Bluetooth.
- A couple notable options missing from the M7 are gain and bass boosters. Fiio typically includes these in their players, so we only guess the exclusion was due to size limitation. Also to that point, power output is relatively limited in general. Fiio’s recommended upper impedance limit is 100 ohms, so power-hungry headphones should steer clear.
- Fiio has been doing proficient acoustic job with its players as of late. Being equally impressed with the X7 II DAP and Q5 DAC, we were interested to know if this skillfulness could transfer to a lower-end and smaller device. We’re glad to say that the M7 impressively gets a good deal of the way there.
- The best quality of its sound is clarity. We’ve heard the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC that’s in the M7 before (in the Onkyo DP-X1), and Fiio has an expertly handle over it to our ears. The noise-floor is silent, even with our extra sensitive Shure SE846 IEMs, and all notes sound distinct, separated, and well-defined.
- Dynamics are terrific. You won’t just get a great sense of spacial differentiation, but instruments hit with a pleasurable fullness and engaging impact (i.e. the bounce of guitar strums or ring of percussions). The M7 doesn’t have the widest soundstage we’ve heard, but what 3D space it has is fully utilized.
- Bass has a lightness to it, so the M7’s response may not entirely fulfill bassheads. This is more true of sub-bass than mid-bass, as we make out more punch than depth. But something has to be said for the top-grade control. Body is nicely balanced between definition and impact, and not overdoing it lets elements of the mid-range equally shine.
- Likewise, you get a pleasing crispness, airyness, and presence from the treble. However, it’s a bit smoother and not as extended/bright as you may get up the price-chain.
We’re pleased to see a quality job on the M7 like that on Fiio’s higher-end players, despite being in the low-to-mid range. We don’t get a sense of cut corners, from the build to the sound. It even goes above and beyond with USB-C, highest-end wireless audio codecs, and a full-on mobile DAC.
$200 for an offline-only player may not fly with everyone, but in this case, we can say you’re getting your money’s worth. Getting the ES9018 DAC in such a small (and well-built) package is compelling enough. However, be mindful that this is a player targeted for the lower-power headphone crowd.