The humble MP3 player was a revelation in the early 2000s but now, surely smartphones are all we need for our portable music needs? Not true! Battery life and memory are at a premium in modern smartphones. Try getting hours of music playback from your device alongside normal to heavy use – no chance! And what if you want to load an entire collection of lossless audio? Portable music players like the FiiO M7 solve these rather big issues whilst providing a wider range of wired and wireless connections that suit everything from the latest Bluetooth earphones to high-spec home hi-fis. They’re as invaluable as ever…
In the Box
The FiiO M7 is boxed with a plastic transparent case, a USB-C cable and a deck of manuals and warranties. The device itself is small but not so small that it’s fiddly and difficult to hold. It’s quite a familiar and appealing shape for a music player – boxy and solid. It has three buttons on the left-hand side (forward, play/pause, back), a volume wheel, a power button, a USB-C port and a 3.5mm jack/line-out.
The FiiO M7
Chinese audio tech manufacturer Fiio’s M series of music players are more consumer-friendly than their X range which was aimed more exclusively at audiophiles and enthusiasts. The FiiO M7 is the first FiiO device released in 2018 and should suit both consumers and enthusiasts alike. Running a super-minimal version of Android, the M7 features a 3.2-inch 480 x 800-pixel screen and is powered by an 1880 mAh LiPo battery for which FiiO claim 20 hours playback time and 40 hours standby time.
It’s worth mentioning that whilst this device runs on Android, you won’t be able to download and install any third-party apps. This is a music device that plays audio from storage or from micro SD only, so streaming (e.g. from Spotify) isn’t possible. Of course, that will a dealbreaker for some, but the FiiO M7 has been designed primarily to be a fully featured offline audio device with excellent performance, Bluetooth and battery life.
In terms of audio, the FiiO M7 uses the Samsung Exynos 7270 SoC processor with an ESS Sabre 9018 chip. Samsung actually designed this processor for wearables and therefore, it does strike me as a rather odd choice for a music player. That said, it’s certainly fast enough and was ultra-stable throughout all testing. The second part of the device’s chip, the ESS Sabre 9018, is what makes this device suitable for audiophile-level listeners. This highly competent DAC and headphone amplifier is capable of outputting high-res audio to a multitude of headphones and HiFis. It might fail to deal with some highly niche headphones which require high gain but it’s a powerful mobile chip.
This all may seem like unnecessary and confusing jargon – the short-end of it is that the M7 can produce much better audio quality than any mobile phone. You do have to hear it to believe it!
Let’s investigate the music player hands-on…
Using the FiiO M7
The FiiO M7 runs on a stripped down version of Android that contains 6 home screen apps. Settings, a file manager, an FM radio, an instruction manual, a gallery for viewing images and the music player app itself.
You can transfer music files in one of two ways; by connecting to your PC with the USB-C cable supplied or by placing a micro-USB (up to 512GB!) in the slot. It has an internal storage of just 2GB so you will most likely need to get yourself a micro SD for use with the device. When reviewing, I used a class 10 SanDisk Ultra 128GB card with absolutely no issues.
Since this is an Android device, you’ll need the Android File Transferapp installed if you want to transfer files from a Mac!
Once you’ve loaded your media, you head to the device’s music player and after clicking through the on-screen tutorial and simply hit ‘scan all’. The FiiO M7 will scan folders in both its internal and SD card memory. Simple stuff!
For me, this process worked flawlessly. I tried FLAC and MP3s with sample rates varying between 44.1kHz and 96kHz and with a maximum bit rate of 1411 kbps for FLAC. The device also supports APE/WAV/FLAC/WMA/OGG/AAC/ALAC/MP3 so no matter what you throw in from your collection, it’ll work fine.
Bluetooth 4.2 Connectivity
Wireless connectivity is extremely important for today’s generation of hi-res music players. Many manufacturers (cough cough Apple) have cut the 3.5mm jack altogether! We need to be able to connect to a whole host of Bluetooth devices ranging from car head units to speakers, earphones and even high-spec HiFis.
The difficulty with Bluetoothing high-res audio is the high amount of data that needs to be efficiently transferred between the transmitter (phone, audio device, etc) and the receiver (headphones, speaker, etc). The higher resolution the file, the more data there is to transfer wirelessly. This is why Bluetooth codecs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Warning, there’s a bit of audio detail in the next section!
The latest Bluetooth codecs include AptX HD and LDAC. These codecs are used in most of the latest phones and are capable of broadcasting 24-bit audio at a sample rate of 48kHz. That has you covered for MP3s and most WAV files or many other lossless formats. LDAC is a more recent codec developed by Sony that can support high-res audio up to 96kHz. The bit-rates can vary between 330 KBS (standard modern MP3 quality) up to a maximum of 990kbs (lossless) for the LDAC codec. This Bluetooth codec has you covered for lossless formats of all types including the very highest quality FLAC files.
Your Bluetooth headphones must support the codec – I used Soundpeats Q32 earphones and they worked perfectly, even with LDAC (Sound Quality First) enabled. Most headphones bought after late 2017 will support LDAC.
AptX has been around since 2014 and the FiiO M7 has an older codec too named SBC – there is a codec to suit any device and it seems that the FiiO M7 will automatically switch to a supported codec. It’s difficult to confirm this but I connected to the following with no issues:
VW car audio
Soundpeats Q32 Earphones
A cheap old Bluetooth speaker
In reality, the difference in codec audio quality will be slight, but if you plan on connecting to a high-end speaker system or headphones using Bluetooth then LDAC compatibility is great.
Audio Quality, Battery Life and Other Features
FiiO have put the effort in to make the M7 useful for both consumers and audiophiles. As previously mentioned, they’ve included a competent built-in DAC/headphone amp and a 3.5mm jack that also acts as a line-out for connecting to external sources like HiFi amplifiers. This should provide good audio quality across a wide range of headphones.
I compared the FiiO M7’s audio quality to that of my Sony Xperia Z5 Compact using both Shure SE315 monitor earphones, Soundpeat Q32 Bluetooth earphones and some lower quality JVC Marshmallow earphones. As expected, the FiiO M7 did produce markedly better results, particularly with my SE315s. The audio was detailed and spacious with enough mid-range and plenty of realistic but punchy bass. Acoustic music like jazz and blues sounded intimate, articulate and natural whilst energetic and loud electronic music like techno or D’n’B produced a weighty, punchy and clean tone.
On the Shure SE315s, no part of the frequency spectrum seemed too strongly accentuated or disproportionate, which was nice to hear. Lossless music really does sound great on the M7. It’s something you might get used to but when you go back to a setup with lesser quality, you’ll miss it! Even my JVC Marshmallows sounded good to me once upon a time…I think it’d be impossible to go back.
I mentioned earlier in the article that a great benefit of owning a standalone music player is that you can rely on its battery life for music duties instead of relying on your phone which tend to drain fairly quickly, particularly when you throw Bluetooth into the mix. FiiO claim 20 hours of music playback and given how little the device drained during testing and listening, this seems like it could be bang on the money. I went for an hour-long walk whilst listening via Bluetooth and the device drained just 6%. Wired use should then produce even better results.
Compatible with External Units
And finally, if you want to go the whole hog with the FiiO M7 then you can couple it with another DAC/amp like the FiiO Q5. Using the M7s USB-C or high-res Bluetooth, you can transmit music to an external unit that provides even better audio quality to your headphones or HiFi.
This device is stocked with great features that make it highly usable even to real audiophiles. For most people (including myself, as I am not really an audiophile), the FiiO M7 simply makes a top-notch music player that seems super reliable and is capable of producing audibly superior results to most devices. Even if you’re not really into your audio on a technical level, you will notice the difference when you couple the FiiO M7 with a decent pair of headphones. Future-proofed with the latest Bluetooth codec LDAC, it’s clear that FiiO have put time and energy into making this a device fit for today’s portable music demands.
DAC 1 x ES9018Q2C 32-Bit
External DAC Functionality
Audio Resolution PCM: 192 kHz / 24-Bit
DSDNative: 2.822 MHz / 1-Bit
Frequency Response 10 Hz – 90 kHz ± 3 dB (Unbalanced Headphone Out)
20 Hz – 90 kHz ± 3 dB (Unbalanced Line Out)
Impedance 2 Ohms (Unbalanced Headphone Out)
Gain Settings – None
Volume Control Digital (60 Steps)
THD + N 0.004% at 1 kHz (Unbalanced)
Audio Power Output 70 mW at 16 Ohms (Unbalanced Headphone Out)
40 mW at 32 Ohms (Unbalanced Headphone Out)
Maximum Output Voltage 3.35 Vp-p
Signal to Noise Ratio >117 dB (Unbalanced Headphone Out)
In the M7, FiiO has created a digital music player which bridges a gap between audiophiles and consumer listeners. So long as you have decent headphones, the difference in audio quality is profound, regardless of whether you're using a wired connection or Bluetooth. With stellar battery life and a slick build and interface, this digital music player is certainly not a toy - it's built to last.
Reader Rating4 Votes81
Android OS is familiar and easy-to-use
Covers bases for consumers and audio enthusiasts
Easy to transfer and scan music
Great battery life
No ability to download Android apps (e.g. Spotify) for streaming
Might be a bit pricey once you add the cost of a high-capacity Micro SD (though these are coming down in price all the time)