FiiO M11S Review
A DAP for the masses
Pros: + Excellent sound performance
+ Great mix of musicality and technicalities
+ Crystal clean and dead silent
+ Open and spacious soundstage with precise imaging
+ Ultra fast and responsive Android experience
+ Good battery duration and fast recharging
+ Customizable one-touch button
+ Compact enough and lightweight
+ Balanced and unbalanced true line-level outputs
+ Excellent build quality
+ Immense value for money
Cons: – Sharp and not forgiving treble
– Not as compact sized and lightweight as some of the competition
– Headphone amplifier is not as powerful as some of the competition
– Gain and filter selections are not displayed at the top information bar
– You have to get into the menu in order to select the low-pass filter
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the M11S is $499 and if you are located in EU you can buy it from here.
As always with FiiO, there is no need for a lengthy introduction since it is one of the most well known brands in personal audio with multi awarded products, from in-ear monitors to DAPs and desktop DAC/amps.
FiiO has long abandoned the entry level DAP market to concentrate their efforts in their flagship products, lately releasing the M17 and the M11 Plus ESS.
Mid-range DAPs were also considered out of interest, the old M9 was their last installment in the range but now, after carefully considering the increasing demand, they have finally decided to resurrect the mid-range category.
Thus the M11S was born, a mid-tier DAP that costs $499 and is the entry point for someone who likes to step into the FiiO DAP world.
The M11S might be FiiO’s entry level DAP but it uses the powerful Snapdragon 660 processor, the same that is to be found in their flagship M17 and albeit the supporting DDR memory is reduced to 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, the specs are to be considered as excellent for a mid-range DAP.
Dual ES9038Q2M DAC chips in a fully balanced configuration are used to do the decoding while audio data are passed through a FiiO developed 4th-generation FPGA technology which works together with two femtosecond crystal oscillators.
The player is able to decode PCM up to 384kHz, DSD256 and MQA 8x unfolding.
The M11S supports WiFi and bidirectional Bluetooth with LDAC/LHDC/aptX HD/aptX/AAC/SBC in transmission and SBC/AAC/LDAC in reception mode.
The amplifier and op-amp sections of the M11S are independently powered and isolated by each other for abundant delivery of clean power.
The large 5300mAh battery can offer about 10-11 hours of actual playing time while thanks to the fast charging, it can be recharged in about 3 hours.
Further information can be found in the following link.
Design and appearance
The M11S appearance resembles that of the M11 Plus ESS as it inherits the same language featuring the 6th generation, FiiO honeycomb design.
But it is a little more compact and lightweight than the M11 Plus ESS, measuring 125.2x74x18.5mm and weighing just 271g making it the most portable and one-handed friendly unit of the FiiO DAP line.
The touch screen is a 5″ 720p bezel-less display that together with the back side of the unit are reinforced with gorilla glass.
The screen has excellent visibility and vibrant colors, good viewing angles and it is very responsive to the touch making navigation a breezing experience.
The unit is made from a single piece of CNC machined aluminum block with a matte black finish and the most excellent build quality.
The layout is the same as with the M11 Plus ESS.
At the top of the left side there is located the power on/off button followed by the extended volume control area that is clickable and not touch sensitive as in the M11 Plus ESS.
Next comes the, FiiO exclusive, multifunction button that can be customized through the internal menu to accomplish various functions of your choice, like one-click to enter Bluetooth decoding mode or filter switching.
At the bottom there are the three headphone/line outputs (2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm) and the USB type C port.
The right side houses the micro SD card slot and the usual three playback buttons while the top of the unit is clean.
Both balanced and single ended outputs can be set as line outputs with fixed or variable level while the 3.5mm can also be set as a S/PDIF digital output.
Both balanced and unbalanced line outputs are true lines that bypass the headphone amplification stage.
The M11S is running an Android 10 OS with Google play store installed out of the box so you can download all your favorite applications, like third party music players and all the popular streaming services.
Furthermore the M11S features a full global SRC bypass so you can listen to bit-perfect full lossless quality.
As with all FiiO DAPs you can always switch from Android mode to Pure Music mode which uses the FiiO developed Music player application, killing all other tasks for a purer listening experience.
Under this mode you can’t use streaming services but you can still access your NAS and use the M11S as a network player.
Other operating modes include Bluetooth receiving/transmitting, USB DAC mode, USB out as a digital transport and AirPlay/DLNA mode.
The actual user experience is great, the M11S runs like a flagship smartphone, it is fast and responsive, you can use gesture navigation, you can customize the unit to your liking and multitask.
From the global sound customization menu you can set the gain between three values (low, mid and high), you can select one of the seven low-pass filters and use the unique All to DSD function.
Two wrongs don’t make a right
This is the fourth FiiO DAP that I have reviewed lately and still FiiO hasn’t fixed some very simple issues that other manufacturers like iBasso have long addressed.
Gain settings and filter selection are still not displayed in the top information bar.
Gain setting is not instantaneous, pressing the button at the screen will open a pop-up menu and even more frustrating, you can’t select the digital filter from the drop down menu but instead you have to enter into the main menu and then the sound customization menu.
I don’t know what is really happening with FiiO but two wrongs don’t make a right or as there is an old Greek saying “doing the same mistake twice, it is not a wise man’s choice”
The M11S comes bundled with a screen protector pre-installed at the factory, a transparent silicone protective case and a USB cable.
I have listened to the M11S with various headphones of the same or a little higher price tag which are more likely to be used with it, like the Sennheiser HD650/660S, HiFiMan Sundara, Meze 109 Pro and the Focal Clear Mg.
Various earphones were also used like the FiiO FDX and FH7S, Meze ADVAR and Etymotic ERX.
I exclusively use pure silver headphone cables made by Lavricables.
The M11S is very powerful given the size, with a rated power of 200mW/32Ω from the single ended output and 670mW/32Ω from the balanced, it drove all the headphones with ease and plenty of headroom while it was dead silent with the sensitive earphones.
The M11S is neutrally tuned with a touch warmness and some treble fondness, not because of some frequency emphasis but rather as a matter of an intended sound shaping.
There is the perfect mix of excellent technicalities, that greatly punch above the category, with a generous dose of musicality and entertaining mood.
The M11S is engaging and not boring or clinical despite offering great amounts of transparency and precision with immense clarity.
Honestly speaking the performance is unbelievable for the price and you have to spend a lot more to get some improvement.
The bass rendering is exemplary with deep extension, excellent control and multilayering, widely contrasting and punching dynamics and a texture that is more full bodied than lean.
Throw to it some thundering symphonic timpani or your favorite electronic bass tunes and the M11S is always up to the task with an uncompromising performance.
Mids sound smooth and organic, they are rich and lush with plenty of harmonic contrast and a very realistic and believable timbre.
From voices to various wind or stringed instruments the sound is always distinguished by the finest resolution, the realism of the voicing and the effortless articulation.
The treble is crystal clear, sharp and super accurate, fast, agile, luminous and sparkling.
You could name it as the star of the show, the M11S is somewhat treble forward but not bright, harsh or fatiguing.
It is not forgiving at all and will be very exposing of poorly recorded material while it will certainly push bright headphones to their limits.
On the other hand the M11S is the perfect DAP to inject some life and excitement to dark or slow headphones to make them dance to the music.
Treble is somewhat leaner than the rest of the frequencies and while it is still tonally correct, this is the only part of the range where the attentive listener will spot some traces of digital artificiality.
One of my favorite pairings was with the Sennheiser HD650 (weight modded) where the M11S proved an excellent matching companion while it had no problem driving them very sufficiently for a compact sized DAP.
Listening to baroque opera was a blissful experience and the combo provided realistic timbre and tonality while the M11S did a great job opening up the HD650 soundstage.
The M11S is open sounding, putting a wide and spacious soundstage into your headphones with some very precise and accurate imaging.
It can’t offer the same holography and grandness of the M17 or the iBasso DX320 nor the diffuse effect of the DX170 but still, we are talking about a very satisfying performance.
Compared to the FiiO M11 Plus ESS ($700)
The M11 Plus ESS that costs $200 more is the first step into FiiO’s flagship line of DAPs.
They both share the same Snapdragon 660 processor but the M11 Plus ESS adds 1GB of extra RAM and it doubles the internal storage to 64GB.
Thus said, real life user experience is just the same and both players offer an undistinguishable, flagship level of performance.
The M11 Plus ESS is somewhat bulkier but not that much as not to be really portable while you get a larger, 5.5″ display.
Layout is exactly the same but the M11 Plus ESS features the touch sensitive volume control panel.
Battery capacity is 6000mAh that translates in a couple of hours of extra playtime.
The M11 Plus ESS has dual ES9068AS DAC chips, raising decoding support up to DSD512 and PCM 768KHZ while amplification is handled by dual THX AAA-78 amplifier modules than the simpler op-amp configuration of the M11S.
Power output rating is the same for both devices but the THX AAA-78 modules offer a touch of better grip and improved dynamics so the M11 Plus ESS is somewhat more authoritative sounding while the soundstage is a little wider and more holographic with a sharper imaging.
The M11 Plus ESS is fuller sounding with more realistic timbre, especially in the treble which is also more smooth and not as sharp and forward as in the M11S.
The M11 Plus ESS also has less of a digital glare while it is more resolving with finer texture quality and offers better communication of the recording ambience.
When it comes to audio we all know that from a certain point and there you have to pay more for less diminishing returns and this is exactly what is happening here.
$200 of extra cash is not buying you an astonishingly better audio player but if you can afford it and don’t mind the extra bulk then the M11 Plus ESS is undeniably a higher tier player.
But if you can’t, then you shouldn’t be worried at all because the M11S is a really excellent sounding player with a performance that is definitely punching above the category.
Compared to the iBasso DX170 ($449)
The iBasso DX170 is another recently released DAP in the mid range category.
$50 less expensive than the M11S it offers a lower grade 4-core RK3566 SoC by Rockchip backed by 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory. In exchange it is more compact sized and lightweight than the M11S making it even more portable friendly but the M11S has a larger internal battery that adds a couple of hours of extra playing time.
As is to be expected by the specs, the M11S is definitely more responsive and faster than the DX170, offering a smoother user experience despite the older version of the Android OS.
Thus said the 5″ 1080p DX170 display is of higher quality with more vibrant colors and better visibility.
The DX170 features dual CS43131 DAC chips so we are talking about a different ecosystem with some noticeable differences when it comes to sound signature while the DX170 is also more powerful.
Bass on the M11S is more controlled, it sounds firmer with better layering and overall technicalities but it is somewhat leaner and not that weighty as in the DX170 although it is more hard hitting.
M11S overall presentation is cleaner, sharper and more transparent than that of the DX170 while the M11S is also more refined and polished than the rougher and more raw sounding DX170.
Timbre is of the same quality, both devices sound quite natural and realistic but mids on the M11S are drier compared to the more suave, organic and seductive DX170.
Thus said, the M11S avoids the given upper-mids emphasis of the DX170 as a result the tonality is more balanced.
On the other hand, the M11S has a sharper and more forward treble that leads to a comparatively brighter sound signature.
The DX170 has a more holographic and grander soundstage whereas the M11S offers a more focused, precise and less diffused image.
Both players offer a stellar sound performance, each one from its own perspective, and certainly a great price to performance ratio thus successfully marking the long waited resurrection of the mid range category that was abandoned in the past few years.
In the end
At the time of writing this review, the FiiO M11S offers the highest price to performance ratio of any other DAP in the market by compiling an excellent overall performance without a single serious negative.
In a compact sized body that fits into your pocket it masterfully integrates excellent sound with a fast and lag free user experience backed by plenty of power, great battery life and top notch build quality.
The FiiO M11S is the sweet spot in the DAP market, the perfect player for the masses.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.