When FiiO first teased a new DAP in the lead-up to their ‘Spring Launch’ event in March this year, it seemed as if we were about to witness the world’s first submergible music player with phone functionality and some sort of otherworldly power source.
As it turned out, the DAP in question – the FiiO M11 – wasn’t quite all that, but in a market split between inexpensive barebones music players and a number of increasingly pricey, premium devices, it somehow still managed to be different enough and affordable enough to make many people rethink the meaning of value.
In fact, the FiiO M11 is probably the most-feature packed DAP you can buy for less than $500 today, and will likely stay that way for what remains of 2019, maybe even longer.
If that sounds like a bold statement, consider the shopping list of hardware features that come standard:
- A pair of AK4493EQ dacs configured in a balanced array along with separate amps for each channel, but also used concurrently to improve single-ended playback.
- A 6-core Samsung Exynos 7872 CPU with 3GB RAM, giving you a previously unseen level of raw performance in a music player.
- A cinematic 5.15-inch bezel-less IPS touchscreen with a ‘retina’ 1440×720 display resolution.
- A choice of three headphone outputs, including 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced options, and a 3.5mm single-ended output that doubles as a digital SPDIF source for external dacs.
- Dual MicroSD sim-type slots with support for next-generation 2TB cards for a total of 4TB of additional storage over and above 32GB of included internal storage.
- Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi with a larger antenna array for improved range and connection stability – at least compared to smaller DAPs like the M9.
Out of the box, the M11 is both substantial and robust, if a little thick compared to the marvel of modern slimline smartphones. That’s understandable given the bulky digital audio and amplification components stuffed inside, but despite the weight it feels well balanced and reassuringly angular in hand. With glass on both front and rear panels, FiiO saw fit to supply a clear silicone cover and tempered glass screen protector as standard, though I immediately put mine into a leather-bound sleeve ‘borrowed’ from a portable hard drive to give it even more protection against accidental knocks.
Onboard storage is a decent 32GB, though the M11 is fitted with two mSD card slots for a theoretical maximum of 2TB additional storage. The card slots are the sim-type slots used by most modern cellphones, which is a neat touch, although this does make fast-swapping of cards on the go less practical.
By far the most impressive feature, build-wise, is the screen. It’s a gorgeous, edge-to-edge IPS screen, larger in height and width than my iPhone’s, and seemingly better quality too. Colours jump out at you from album covers and interface elements, and everything on-screen is incredibly rich and clear. the scene is also one of the brightest I’ve seen on any portable device, and unless you’re using it in direct sunlight, reducing brightness down to 20% or 30% is more than enough (and saves on battery power too).
Speaking of which, battery life is excellent for such a high-powered device, easily giving me more than a full day’s use listening to high-res Flac files through the 2.5mm balanced port. And when I’m not using it, the M11 goes into a deep sleep state, losing only a few percentage points of power even after days of inactivity.
Also included and probably worth a mention is the USB-C cable for fast charging, file transfer (unfortunately limited to USB 2.0), and digital audio out, and a 3.5mm to SPDIF adapter. The M11 doubles as a balanced dac for your PC, Mac or phone with 32-bit 384KHz support, or as a digital coax source, but since I won’t be using it for either, I didn’t test this functionality.
On the software front, the M11 sports a highly-customised version of Android 7 Nougat that allows for multitasking and does away with whitelisting to give you access to thousands of potentially useful apps.
Due to licensing issues more to do with Google than FiiO, the M11 is not Google Android-certified and therefore doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store for the full-blown Android experience. On the one hand this limits your choices of apps that are only available on the Google Play Store and require Google Play services to run properly, but on the other it makes for a more streamlined user experience with less clutter and background processes eating up valuable CPU cycles.
Whether or not the lack of Google Play is detrimental to your experience of the M11 largely depends on what you want from a DAP. From a hardware perspective it has all the raw power you’ll need from today’s and future apps, but could be hamstrung if those apps are tethered exclusively to the Play Store.
From my perspective, it effortlessly supports all the current streaming apps – including Tidal with offline functionality – and even more importantly supports apps like Plex and Netflix that allow me to make full use of my personal high-res audio library and gives me access to high-res video streaming from the same device, anywhere in the world.
Other software highlights include FiiO Link, which lets you control the M11 with your phone via Bluetooth (or your phone via the M11, though I’m not quite sure why you’d want to do this). FiiO Link only works with the FiiO Music app, so again it’s not something I personally tested.