Off the cuff, most people who know their way around the personal audio scene would say £200 seems like quite a reasonable jumping-off point for a decently equipped, good sounding DAP. FiiO’s M7 portable high-resolution music player is entry level priced at £159 but quickly outpaces any expectations you might be bringing to the price point. FiiO has packed its M7 player with so much creative technology and functionality that it is hard to imagine the M7 is not virtually bursting at the seems. The compact 116g, 109mm × 52mm × 13mm sized aluminium alloy player with a tempered glass touchscreen that is sized to be taken anywhere and that tallies up functionality points in a hurry. Demanding users will enjoy the M7’s Bluetooth aptX HD capability, LDAC support, FM radio, 2 GB of onboard memory, micro SD card storage capabilities, and its out-of-the-box readiness to play virtually any high quality file format (PCM to 24/192 and native DSD64).
The diminutive size of the music player drove many of the engineering innovations found in the M7 starting with a fresh take on the CPU technology. The M7’s uses Samsung’s Exynos 7270 SoC (‘System on Chip’) processor with cutting edge Sip-ePoP packaging, which fits the power of dual ARM Cortex A53 cores into 40% less space than the separately packaged chips would normally require. As a result, the M7 offers increased storage, increased power, and smoother user interface navigation—all without any increase in physical bulk.
The Exynos CPU posed circuit board integration challenges for FiiO’s engineers, where the solution proved to be a special six-layer high density interconnect PCM board to interface with the Samsung CPU, an innovation FiiO claims is a first forany digital audio player. Where ordinary printed circuit boards have plated-through-holes, the M7’s 6-layer high density PCM board enables blind and ‘buried via’ pathways, which allow the various components of the M7 to better function in unison. However, what really got the FiiO engineers high-fiving one another about the new high density PCM board was its ability to at once support a beefier power supply while simultaneously delivering noticeably better (20-hour) battery life for the player.
While most of the M7’s sizzle is based around its CPU and PCM board, the M7 uses the high performing ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC. The DAC is notable for the fact that it provides individual power supplies for the headphone amplifier, digital section, and the analogue side of the Sabre chip. A ‘specially designed FPGA’ enables the M7 to handle PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHZ and DSD files to DSD 64 (in DFF of DSF). Dual crystal oscillators enable the M7 to perform accurately whether PCM files use sampling rates based on multiples of 44.1 or 48kHz. There is plenty more on the inside to discuss, including LDAC, Bluetooth 4.2 and FM radio capabilities, but the point is that the M7 is packed to the gills with useful and powerful technology.
A discriminating DAP buyer, given the means, could easily spend two, three, or more times the FiiO M7’s price, yet only modestly outpace its sonic performance. I found the M7 to be an outstanding value that had a quick and intuitive user-friendly interface and sonically valued detail and transparency. In A-B comparisons to DAPs three time its price the M7’s presentation was perhaps a bit too forward and bright, but compared to DAPs of equal or slightly higher price, FiiO’s M7 proved a sonic heavyweight to be reckoned with. For an example of the open transparency I came to associate with the M7 listen to the Gary Bartz’ opening saxophone on ‘Love Ballad’ from the 1977 jazz-fusion classic Music is My Sanctuary [Capitol]. The effortless detail and space created around Bartz’ saxophone – in combination with the strings, bass, and drums – lets you know quickly the M7 is worth every penny. For £159 you are going to have a tough time finding a better bang for your buck.
FiiO M7 portable digital audio player
Type: Compact, high-resolution digital audio player based on a Samsung Exynos 7270 SoC processor, proprietary FPGA device, and ESS ES9018Q2C DAC
Supported file types: PCM to 24-bit/192kHz, DSD to DSD64
Inputs: Bluetooth 4.2 supporting aptX and aptX HD, LDAC, FM radio, internal storage, external (micro SD) storage, USB C
Outputs: 3.5mm headphone jack, USB C
Storage: 2GB RAM, micro SD card slot for cards with capacity up to 512GB
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 90kHz, -3dB
THD + N: <0.004% (1kHz)
Power output: ≥ 70mW (16ohms/THD+N <1%), ≥ 40mW (32ohms/THD+N <1%)
SNR: ≥117dB (A weighted)
Battery: 1880mAAh Li-polymer battery
(20-hour play time)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 13 × 52 × 109mm
Price: $199 US, £159
FiiO Electronics Technology Co. Ltd
GuangZhou, China Postcode 510430