The other stuff
The M11 represents good value at the current asking price of $450 (give or take a few bucks depending where in the world you buy it) even if you just bought it to play music with FiiO Music. Except you’d be wasting so much of the M11’s potential if that’s all you bought it for.
That’s because a modern marvel like the M11 is not just a DAP, just like a modern SUV is not just a car. It’ll play your music as beautifully as any DAP at this level and price point should, but what sets it apart from all those other DAPs – and many that cost significantly more – is all the other things it can do.
As a full-featured Android device (minus Google Play, that is), you can almost infinitely tweak how you play your music. Want an app with a slicker, sharper UI, dozens more features, and far better library management than FiiO Music: get Poweramp. Try before you buy for 15 days, or buy it for small change, but either way, it’s what I now use as my daily music software despite the claims by some that playback quality suffers compared to FiiO Music.
Or use any number of alternative music players like Neutron, which does reportedly support high-res playback, but the interface leaves much to be desired. The only recognised player you can’t currently use is USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) because it’s only available on the Google Play Store and won’t run without it, nor will its developers cede to the requests of many M11 owners to make it available independently.
I use two other ‘music’ apps alongside Poweramp: Plex and Tidal. Both let me stream my high-res music through the M11, Plex from my local network, Tidal from the cloud. Whether or not the music I’m hearing is downsampled to 16/44.1 as is the case on many Android devices, I can’t say. Do I hear a significant difference listening to music with these apps on the M11 compared to my Mac? No, I don’t. Make of that what you will.
Then there’s all the other stuff, the non-music stuff. With no accelerometer or gyroscope, the M11 won’t automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode by rotating it. Play a movie and the display switches to landscape. Stop the movie and the display stays in landscape until you switch apps or gesture back to the home screen. Awkward, but not a train smash. The fact that you can even play movies at an enjoyable resolution on a retina screen with all the benefit of dedicated audio hardware already makes the M11 more useful as a media player than many smartphones. The same goes for games, but I’m not a gamer, so I’ll leave it there.
Multitasking and apps that continue to run in the background is another big plus – especially compared to DAPs like the M9 that tease it but can’t offer it. One of the shortcomings of the M9, for example, was the inability to run a system-wide EQ, so that tweaks made to the sound in one app would carry over to others. Another useful find – RE Equalizer – does just that, sounds great, is highly configurable, and works seamlessly in the background, whether I’m listening to music in Tidal or watching a Netflix movie. It’s even configurable per-app.
Then there’s the simple stuff, like web browsing, that is par for the course on a smart device, but not always on a DAP. With the M11, you can do all the surfing you like in Chrome while your favourite tracks play flawlessly in the background. You can even control playback using the side buttons and volume wheel without leaving the browser.
The M11 can also receive and transmit high-res wireless audio using LDAC and HWA, one of the only DAPs to offer this functionality at the price. It can also receive Airplay from an iPhone or other Apple devices for true lossless playback, and that’s before we get to its Wi-Fi features that enable full high-res wireless support via UPnP and DLNA.
I feel like I’m saying my thank-yous at a wedding, but let’s not forget fast charging, all-to-DSD upsampling, Wi-Fi file transfer, and QC fast charging. For sure I’ve forgotten something that’s going to be important to someone, so like at a wedding, I’ll just say to the features I haven’t mentioned in this review, you know who you are.
Faults? I’ve mentioned a few along the way, but they bear repeating here. FiiO Music is basic at best. The lack of Google Play will irk some. A gyroscope – or at least a software switch for screen orientation would have been useful, especially with such a great screen asking to be swiveled. There are some typos scattered across the UI, though far fewer than those on other Chinese-made daps (at least I don’t feel obliged to rewrite the English language firmware like I did for the Cayin N3). AAC Bluetooth support is conspicuous by its absence, and for no apparent reason either. Some compatibility issues have also been reported with the first mSD slot and a small number of cards (if in doubt, use slot 2, but I use both slots with Adata 128GB cards without any issues).
I’m really nitpicking for negatives, but even the ones I’ve mentioned are frivolous at best. Guys, we’re talking about a $450 DAP that can do ALL THAT. This level of quality and feature blowout was frankly inconceivable before the M11, and now that we have the M11, it’s still inconceivable. Goodness knows what treats we’re in for at this price range in the future when the M11 exists today.
THE HEADONIST VERDICT
The FiiO M11 is the best sounding, best featured DAP you can buy for $500 or less. It is better built, better specked and more powerful than some DAPs costing twice as much or more, and raises more questions than answers for so-called ‘premium’ daps that deliver far less for more money. That said, it’s not a DAP for everyone. It’s thicker and heavier than a large smartphone, and nowhere near as pocketable. It’s based on Android but won’t give you the full Google Play experience. It’ll last all day on a fast charge but not all week like some DAPs. Yet despite the downsides, the M11 is easily, unequivocally, and inarguably the best value DAP on the market today, this year, and for who knows how much longer beyond that. Highly recommended.
Features and Functions
Speed and Responsiveness