Some of our links are affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission on purchases. You can read more about us here.

The survival of digital audio players is actually quite extraordinary. Despite the fact that we carry around phones that can do everything, standalone digital audio players continue to sell. It’s something Chinese manufacturer, FiiO, is counting on with the release of the M7. In this review, we break down the FiiO M7’s sound, design, packaging and accessories, specs and more. To see how it stacks up, see our list of the best digital audio players.


Sound:

Clarity and Neutrality

The weird thing with digital audio players (DAPs) like the FiiO M7, is that sound quality isn’t the most important thing. It sounds odd, given that the very purpose of these devices is to actually play music, but it’s true. And it’s especially true in this price range, where the differences between DAPs are relatively minimal. That’s not to say the M7 delivers bad sound – far from it. The audio performance is clear and concise, delivering a balanced picture of the music without emphasizing any one particular element. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t shoot up the fireworks and give you eargasms - we didn’t make it up, it’s totally a word. It just presents your music as clearly as it can, and gets out of the way. With a file capability of 24bit / 192kHz, it’s more than capable of taking high-resolution lossless audio, too.

The FiiO M7, in all its glory | The Master Switch.jpg
The FiiO M7, in all its glory | The Master Switch

FiiO - pronounced fey-o, if you're interested - have never really deviated from this particular house sound. They don’t have the slavish adherence to neutrality of companies like Beyerdynamic, but you genuinely feel like the player is striving to present your music in the best possible light. That’s no bad thing. If you do want something a little bit different, where the circuitry of the DAP makes itself known a little more, then we recommend something like the iBasso DX90. It’s a little more expensive than the $200 M7, at $367, but has more power and delivers more weight to the low-end.

Whatever your choice of music, FiiO’s got you | The Master Switch.jpg
Whatever your choice of music, FiiO’s got you | The Master Switch

FiiO M7 Sound Quality vs. FiiO X7 vs. Shanling M0

The problem, as we mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, is that there are minimal audio differences between the M7 and its competitors. Take the Shanling M0 player, which costs $129 to the M7’s $200. While there are a few differences in features, which we’ll go into below, the overall sound quality is virtually identical. Yes, they use different DAC chips (Digital-to-Analog Converters, which convert the 1s and 0s of your audio file into actual, audible music). And yes, there probably are a few small differences if you listened closely. But really, we’re talking very small changes here. While the M7 is an excellent player, with plenty to recommend it, it doesn’t deliver the audio knockout blow that’s required to recommend it over its cheaper siblings.

The interface and operating system are simple to use | The Master Switch.jpg
The interface and operating system are simple to use | The Master Switch

If you want a significant upgrade in sound, and are willing to pay for even more razor-sharp clarity, then we suggest sticking with FiiO and their X7 Mark II. It’s a bit old now, but it still has some excellent tricks, including interchangeable amp modules that let you mess around with the sound quality. It costs $650, compared to the newer M7’s $200. If we’re being honest, the M7 has better functionality and a better operating system, but the old X7 has far better sound quality.

You have the option of using LDAC Bluetooth if you like | The Master Switch.jpg

Bluetooth and LDAC

The M7 rides the wave of a new trend we’re seeing in the audio world: the inclusion of LDAC. This is a type of Bluetooth, invented by Sony, which transmits data much higher rates. That means higher quality sound (obviously). The downside is that the technology is still in its infancy, and hasn’t been widely adopted. Still, it’s good to have, and both it and the aptX Bluetooth work very well. We had no issues pairing the M7 with our Bose Quietcomfort 35 II headphones, and on a recent international trip, the combination of the Bose and the M7 was an absolute joy. Noise-canceling, plus high-res Bluetooth, plus being able to save our phone battery, equals happy Master Switch writer.

The M7 comes with 2GB of internal memory | The Master Switch.jpg
The M7 comes with 2GB of internal memory | The Master Switch

The player even includes an FM radio, and it can handle DSD audio. And while it may not make huge leaps beyond its cheaper competitors, as mentioned above, it doesn’t take anything off the table. No matter what sound source or file type you’re using, no matter whether you’re Bluetooth or wired, things sound assured and controlled.

One important note to bear in mind: this player does not include support for Wi-Fi, or streaming services like Tidal and Spotify. While that’s definitely an annoyance, and something a smartphone would not have a problem with, it’s not something we can really fault the M7 for. That’s because virtually no other players – certainly none in this price range – offer support for those services. If we’re wrong about this, please let us know in the comments. Then again, you shouldn’t buy a DAP with the expectation of using streaming services. Actual digital audio files will be required. Hey, we don’t make the rules.

The leather prevents scratching, if you store your phone and M7 in the same pocket | The Master Switch.jpg
The leather prevents scratching, if you store your phone and M7 in the same pocket | The Master Switch

Design:

Looks and Build Quality

FiiO have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to design. Other players are all weird angles and knobbly controls – just look at the Lotoo PAW Gold, an otherwise-excellent player but looks like it was designed in 1991. With a price tag of over $2,000, it really shouldn’t look that bad. Perhaps it’s a minor miracle, then, that the M7 looks as good as it does.

It’s a slim black slab, with subtle controls and a recessed volume wheel, that’s both attractive and intuitive to use. Despite the sharp edges, it feels good in the hand. And its light weight - a little over 4oz – means that it isn’t going to weigh down your pocket. It’s a design ethos that shares a lot of DNA with one of our favourite portable amps at the moment, another FiiO product called the Q5 (full review here). They both have a similar look and feel - although, the M7 has one significant advantage in its giant touchscreen. While this isn’t end to end, like a modern iPhone, it’s more than big enough, measuring 2” x 3”. It’s also gloriously clear, displaying your album art in full color, and it was a total joy to use. It’s much better than the smaller touchscreen of the previously-mentioned Shanling M0.

There’s a line out function if you want to use other equipment | The Master Switch
There’s a line out function if you want to use other equipment | The Master Switch

Controls and Operating System

The external controls are very minimal. The volume wheel is knurled for grip, and is easy to find and operate – as are the three function buttons below it. It’s the touchscreen you’ll be using the most, and it would mean nothing if the operating system wasn’t up to scratch. Fortunately, it very much is. The M7 runs off a modified Android OS, which is easy-to-use. While it would be nice to have slightly more logical swipe gestures – you swipe from left to right on the top part of the screen to go back to the previous menu, for instance – it’s a very minor thing. And getting the player to scan the tracks you load is simplicity itself, as the computer scrapes meta data to display coherent track names and album art. Font is clear and easy to read, too, and there are enough customization options and themes to make it easy to fine-tune things. If there was ever an advertisement for spending just a touch more on a DAP, it’s here: the ease of use, and the operating system. Compare this to the absolute disaster that was the Dodocool DA106 (full review here). Sure, it only cost about $50. But it was awful, and a big reason for that was its operating system.

The knurled volume knob is something of a FiiO trademark | The Master Switch.jpg
The knurled volume knob is something of a FiiO trademark | The Master Switch

USB-C, Storage, and Battery Life

One of the unique features of the M7 is that it offers playback through USB-C headphones, which is something unique among the DAPs we’ve tested. It sounds nifty, but like the inclusion of LDAC Bluetooth, it’s probably going to be used by only a small handful of people. That’s because there simply aren’t enough USB-C headphones around at the moment. The JBL Aware Reflect C ($120) are probably the best of the bunch at the moment, and honestly, we’d just advise skipping this entirely unless you have no other option. Thank us later.

The USB and data port on the M7’s bottom end | The Master Switch.jpg
The USB and data port on the M7’s bottom end | The Master Switch

The M7 comes with a slot for a microSD card, as well as 2GB of internal memory. It sounds like a lot, but compared to other players in its price range, it really isn’t. As an example, the Cowon M2 ($140 to the M7’s $200) comes with 16GB of storage. That’s a bit of a black mark for the M7, and it’s frustrating that such a good player is let down by such a tiny internal memory system. It definitely isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s something to bear in mind.

One big positive for the M7 is the battery life. At moderate volume, we got around 22 hours of battery while wired, and around 25 on Bluetooth. That’s more than enough for a transatlantic flight, and definitely enough for multiple short-haul ones. It will certainly last you a few commutes without breaking a sweat. Take a look at the best wireless headphones of this year: most of them have a battery life of under 20 hours, meaning your headphones will more than likely need charging before your player will.

There’s a microSD card slot if you need more space | The Master Switch
There’s a microSD card slot if you need more space | The Master Switch

Accessories & Packaging:

Both the accessories and packaging of the M7 are minimal. The box it comes in is sleek enough: a smooth white number with a cardboard lid that slides right off. It’s nice to have, but can be disposed of straight away. There are only two accessories that come with the player: a very short USB data/charging cable, and a plastic case. We’ll be honest: the plastic case feels a little bit useless. While it definitely protects the player, it doesn’t actually do anything to protect the screen itself - if you drop it face down, you’ve got problems. No, we didn’t actually test this. And, as far as we are aware, FiiO don’t offer screen protectors. So, be very careful when handling the M7. Somehow, we don’t think your local phone repair store is going to know what to do here.

 

What We Like:

  • The sound quality of the FiiO M7 is clear and precise, presenting your music in a balanced way.
  • The design and build quality of the player are top-notch.
  • The M7’s modified Android operating system – and its incredible touchscreen – are a joy to use.
     

What We Don’t:

  • The M7’s LDAC and USB-C functionality feel tacked-on, and even a little bit pointless.
  • There’s limited internal storage available, although you can expand up to 512GB with the microSD card slot.
  • The M7 suffers in comparison to its competitors, which offer similar functionality at an often cheaper price.
Box---FiiO-M7.jpg
You get a slim rubber protector with your M7 | The Master Switch

Comparison Table:

DAP Price Storage Max Sampling Wi-Fi/BT*
FiiO M7 $200 2GB (Expandable) 24-bit/192kHz No/Yes
Shanling M0 $109 0GB (Exp. 512GB) 32-bit/384kHz No/Yes
iBasso DX90 $355 8GB (Exp. to 2TB) 24-bit/192kHz No/No
Cowon M2 $140 16GB (Exp. to 48GB) 16-bit/48kHz No/No
FiiO X7 Mark II $650 64GB (Expandable) 32-bit/384kHz Yes/Yes

*BT = Bluetooth
Want Even More Master Switch? Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!


The Competition:

The DAP market is super crowded, especially in the sub-$500 range. The M7 is going up against plenty of challenges, and it doesn’t always do enough to differentiate itself. Take the Shanling M0. Sure, it doesn’t have any internal storage, and has a much smaller touchscreen. But it’s also cheaper ($109 versus $200 for the M7), and has similar specs. In some cases, it even surpasses the M7; its SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) is 118dB, compared to 117db for the M7. It’s not a huge difference – as we mentioned before, the sound quality of these two models is virtually identical – but it certainly undercuts the M7 in many key categories. For the record: we prefer the M7, which we think is a lot more fun to use, thanks to its touchscreen. But if you’re on a budget, then there’s no competition.

The $367 iBasso DX90 Is another alternative. It’s body and operating system are old as time, with clunky buttons that revive a Walkman from the 1990s. Compared to the usability of the M7, the latter wipes the floor with it. What the DX90 loses in style, it more than makes up for in substance. It delivers rich, powerful, soaring sound quality that takes your raw audio files and launches them into orbit. It might be a little bit of a pain to use, but it’s great fun when you’re actually listening to it. You also get 8GB of internal memory, compared to 2GB for the M7.

The operating system is a modified Android one that's fast and effective | The Master Switch
The operating system is a modified Android one that's fast and effective | The Master Switch

Cowon are a brand that doesn’t have the footprint FiiO does, but they’re gaining ground. The Cowon M2 isn’t the most expensive player they offer, but it’s definitely one of the best. The M7 definitely beats it on sound quality – no question there – but the $140 M2 has several other things going for it. It has a magnificent touchscreen that, while not significantly bigger than the M7’s, actually looks clearer. It can also play video, and has a staggering 90 hours of battery life. That’s enough for around ten flights to Mexico and back. Coincidentally, we don’t know why FiiO, Cowon, and Shanling all use the suffix M for their players. It must be a marketing thing.

Right now, we’d say that the M7 is FiiO’s flashiest player. But if you want to stick with the brand, while investing in something a little bit beefier, then we recommend the X7 Mark II. It’s a beast: a Wi-Fi-compatible player with interchangeable amp modules that allow you to customise your sound. You also get the same terrific touchscreen and elegant design. It does cost quite a bit - $650, over three times the cost of the M7 – but it’s worth it.

See the FiiO M7 See the Best Digital Audio Players

Best Digital Audio Players of 2018

Remember the very first chrome-dipped iPod from fifteen years ago? No? Damn, we’re old. Anyway, it sold like three hundred and sixty million units. It changed the way we listen to music forever - and today, Apple is no longer the market leader.

Best DACs of 2018

A simple DAC upgrade can do wonders for your audio playback, as for example, a 4K-capable TV might change your movie viewing experience. So why not take the jump?  We’ve gathered some of the most exciting converters currently on the market.

Best Headphone Amps of 2018

You wouldn't expect headphones to need any special equipment to work. They are just about as simple as audio equipment gets. You plug them in, turn your device on, and music comes through. But what if you don’t just want to listen to your music?

Best High-End Headphones of 2018

Sometimes, you need to take a step back, look at how you’re listening to music, and improve it. Sometimes, you just need to break the bank, go deep, and invest in something that will last you that years and deliver the best sound you’ve ever heard.

Best Wireless Headphones of 2018

Wireless headphones rock. It's been a long time since the days where wired headphones could claim superiority - the sound quality, useability and style of wireless cans have more than caught up...

4 Ways To Improve Your Headphone Sound

At The Master Switch, we spend an awful lot of time thinking about audio. More importantly, we spend an awful lot of time thinking about how to improve it. Everything we do is geared towards creating bigger, better sound.

Headphone Specs Explained

Everything you need to know about headphone specs. if it doesn’t involve any of the following, you probably don’t need to worry about it. Consider this the ultimate explainer.

Audio Formats Explained

FLAC, WAV, AIFF, DSD… There’s no denying that picking the right type of audio to listen to can be crazy confusing. Fortunately, we're here to help, with our full guide to this audio topic.

Review: FiiO X1

Here’s a question for you. How much are you willing to put up with for great sound? When you’re buying audio gear, do you go for stuff that is easy to use, that you will never have to think about, and which will become second nature to operate?