If you took a walk down Lamington road say about a decade or two ago, you would notice the smorgasbord of MP3 players that resembled the shape of a large capsule.
Yup, remember those bad boys? You had choices that ranged from 256MB variants all the way up to 1GB. And if you had a 1GB MP3 player, you were considered a badass. The portable player scene has changed quite a bit now. Well it’s almost non-existent thanks to these strange new devices called smartphones. Now most of us who bought those capsule MP3 players switched to smartphones and are quite happy with the performance. However, some of us are audiophiles and desire a wee bit more than the puny output of smartphones. Oh, and these days they’re getting rid of the headphone jack too. Blasphemy! Scream audiophiles. Don’t worry though. FiiO has a solution for those craving audiophile ears - the M7.
FiiO is known for its strong and robust build and the legacy is carried forward quite well by the M7. It’s a solid block of goodness that’s quite pocketable and hardly weighs anything - 116g to be precise. But the light weight doesn’t mean it feels cheap, in fact it feels like it can survive a few drops and then some.
The design is reminiscent of the previous FiiO M3, but this time the physical volume wheel makes its presence felt on the upper left hand side of the unit. It sits in a recessed space and has a texture that aids grip while it clicks away as you fiddle around, and yes, you tend to fiddle around a lot with it, because it’s just satisfying to do so. Below that rest three buttons, two for skipping ahead and going back and one for pause. The power button with its indicator and the headphone jack are on top and the power indicator in the centre of the button itself is quite a clever touch.
But the blocky design does make its presence felt in a sort of annoying way. Even though it has chamfered edges, they aren’t rounded enough and feel quite crude in the hand and more so in the pocket. Things that have sharp pointy corners are not something we like putting close to our crotch, no, no way. Overly exaggerated reactions apart, it isn’t that bad and the included cover just solves this issue.
Screening it right
The 3.2in 480x800 TFT display is as standard as it gets and - spoiler alert - there’s nothing fancy about it. It responds well and gets the job done efficiently. What’s nice is the way the OS is designed. Simplicity and ease of use are some of the words that come to mind when you start using the M7.
There’s just six icons displayed and things are fairly straightforward. Swipe gestures rule the navigation side of the FiiO M7 and the whole jig works quite well - you swipe up from the bottom left to go back and swiping from the right takes you to the home screen.
All about the tracks
A Samsung Exynos 7270 processor is an odd choice considering it is put to service in wearables, but here everything it is responsible for is on the lighter side when compared to the hard-core wearables. It features the ESS Sabre 9018 chip that is quite a regular in most budget players and lends unmatched transparency to the audio.
Energy and drive seem to be the M7’s sonic fibre and that’s why we start with Dark Necessities by RHCP and the strong bassline intro immediately hits you with a plomb. It’s clear from the start that the M7 is no slouch, it gives out a fuller sound that’s balanced quite well with no particular frequencies dominating over the other. It’s almost as if FiiO has played it safe with the M7, but you can rest assured, they haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
We move to something that emphasizes on bass a tad bit more and The Wilhelm Scream by James Blake is relentless when it comes to confusing less than capable DAPs, but the M7 handles it beautifully. There’s enough detail on offer here and the cacophonous crescendo that the track leads to is handled with precision and enough clarity so as to not trip over the track’s complicated structure. You get to listen to the different elements included in the piece rather well if not absolutely like some of the more expensive players out there.
Overall the FiiO M7 has a sort of neutral approach that is backed by clarity and precision detail. We do wish it were a bit more open and spacious as sometimes tracks do tend to sound congested, but it isn’t very prominent. Switch to Bluetooth which comes with LDAC and aptX-HD and there’s hardly any difference in the quality. The FiiO M7 doesn’t change character or lose those finer details and puts out a strong performance even when you use Line-out. FiiO has also included radio, which is sort of odd, but it works well.
The FiiO M7 is quite a capable player that looks cute and has a lot to offer. It gives you the latest LDAC codec along with aptX-HD and supports DSD128 via its USB Type-C port. Yes, this addition means it won’t be able to shake hands with the K5, but hey, times they’re a changing. For what it offers and the price that it comes at, the M7 is a great option for those looking for a separate player that’s capable of a lot.
It isn’t perfect, though, the OS, though simplified, is still not as polished as we’d like and on the sonic front, it makes us wish for a bit more sense of space.
However when we look at the ₹16,990 price tag, it compels us to forget the minor flaws and reward it the full 5 stars.