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 costs an entry-level $199 but quickly outpaces any expectations you might bring to that 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 seams. The compact, 116g, 109mm x 52mm x 13mm, aluminum-alloy player with a tempered glass touchscreen is sized to be taken anywhere and tallies up functionality points in a hurry. Demanding users will enjoy the M7’s Bluetooth aptX HD capability, LDAC support, FM radio, 2GB of onboard memory, microSD 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 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 for any digital audio player. Where ordinary printed circuit boards have plated-through-holes, the M7’s specially built 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 about the new six-layer, 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 provides individual power supplies for the headphone amplifier, digital section, and the analog 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 DSD64 (in DFF of DSF). Dual crystal oscillators allow 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 times 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’s opening saxophone on “Love Ballad” from the 1977 jazz-fusion classic Music Is My Sanctuary [Capitol]. The effortless detail and space around Gary’s saxophone immediately let you know the M7 is worth every penny. For $199 you are going to have a tough time finding better bang for your buck.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Compact, high-resolution digital audio player
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 (microSD) storage, USB C
Outputs: 3.5mm headphone jack, USB C
Storage: 2GB RAM, microSD 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: 13mm x 52mm x 109mm
FIIO ELECTRONICS TECHNOLOGY CO. LTD.