FiiO Q7 Review
Massive in size – Massive in performance
Pros: + Neutral and balanced tuning with great levels of engagement
+ Excellent technicalities and supreme transparency
+ Thundering bass and astounding dynamics
+ Desktop-grade powerful headphone amplifier
+ Dual power modes
+ Excellent Bluetooth performance
+ Good battery duration
+ All-in-one solution for every use scenario
+ Excellent build quality
+ Numerous inputs and outputs
+ Color IPS display
+ Full accessory pack
Cons: – Slightly more technical than musical
– The highly revealing and exposing nature will not suit bright headphones and poor quality recordings
– A touch of treble glare
– Can get a little warm
– An integrated WiFi module is really missing
– Doesn’t (yet) support OTA firmware updates
– The IPS screen is too small
– Relatively big and heavyweight for portable use
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 FiiO Q7 is $799 and you can order it from here.
FiiO Q7 – Technical highlights
The Q7 is FiiO’s flagship transportable, desktop class DAC/amp, a product in a category that has been vacant for quite a long time since the latest products were the, now discontinued, Q5S TC and the entry level Q3 MQA.
Not surprisingly the Q7 is based on the successful architecture of M17, FiiO’s flagship DAP, with the only major difference being the use of one ES9038PRO DAC chip instead of two and of course the lack of the Android section.
Similarly to the M17 the Q7 comes with dual THX AAA 788+ amplification circuits in a four way fully balanced configuration that can provide up to 3000mW of output power, greatly surprising that of the M17.
It has five gain settings including a high power over the ear headphone one thanks to the dual portable/desktop power supply modes.
Different is also the XMOS receiver which is now the XU316 instead of the XUF208 that is furthermore combined with two independent audio clocks to offer jitter free decoding of 32bit/768kHz PCM, native DSD512 and MQA unfolding up to 8X from the USB input.
The Q7 also features coaxial and optical inputs while Bluetooth wireless connectivity is supported through the QCC5124 Qualcomm chipset that supports the high resolution LDAC, aptX HD and aptX adaptive codecs.
The dual supply mode allows the Q7 to be operated in either DC or battery powered modes.
Under the battery mode the Q7 can provide up to 1500mW of power thanks to the massive 9200mAh battery while in DC mode the battery is completely bypassed and the power output doubles to, a desktop-like, 3000mW of undistorted power.
You can read everything about the Q7 here.
Appearance and build quality
The Q7 is almost identical looking to the M17 minus the IPS screen although it features its own smallish 1.3″ full color display that is located at the upper part of the front face.
It is not big but it is actually sharp with good visibility so you can quickly know useful information such as audio format and sampling rate while you have access to the configuration menu.
The futuristic appearance features the mech-inspired lines of the body that now extend at the front face and the alien-looking RGB lights.
The chassis is made from solid CNC machined aluminum alloy and as always with FiiO build quality and finish are just excellent and flawless.
The center stripe at the front face features a gorilla glass insert that is protected by a pre-applied film while the exterior surface of the back plate is made from a slip resistant, hardened plastic compound.
The Q7 is a massive sized device, measuring 158x88x28mm and weighing a whole 620g, so it is not portable at all and should be considered as a transportable DAC/amp that you can carry in a small bag.
Layout and user interface
At the top of the Q7 there are four headphone outputs (6.35mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm and 2.5mm) so you are not going to need an adapter and the multifunction volume control knob.
This one is slightly different than the one found in the M17, it doesn’t rotate between a min and max position but it rather adjusts the volume in small clicking steps while a single press will enter the digital inputs selection screen and a long press will enter the main menu.
You rotate the knob to select the desired function or value and then you press to confirm.
At the right side of the chassis there is the power on/off button together with three buttons for controlling music playback (play/pause, previous and next track).
At the bottom there are located the DC and the three digital inputs together with two switches, one for setting USB charge to on/off and the other for enabling/disabling the DC mode.
Notable features of the menu include selecting between seven low pass filters, independently configuring the single ended and balanced outputs as dedicated line level outputs, setting the line output mode between fixed or variable, gain setting and many others.
The FiiO Q7 has pretty much everything covered and there are only two things missing: an auto power off timer after a certain time of inactivity and a WiFi module.
It would be really great if the Q7 could connect to your home network and stream music like you can do with the Chord Mojo 2 with the Poly add on module.
FiiO Control application
Moreover the Q7 is compatible with the FiiO control application which allows for further customization of the unit like configuring the RGB lights pattern, selecting the Bluetooth codec and enabling the EQ which works in Bluetooth mode only.
The Q7 features the Bluetooth low energy technology that is always active and allows for the Q7 to be connected to the FiiO Control application even when not in Bluetooth mode without consuming much battery.
I haven’t performed a benchmark measurement of the battery duration since there are a lot of parameters involved so I can only submit that the Q7 lasted about 8-9 hours of mixed usage from the balanced output.
Not bad at all for such a powerful beast.
The battery needs about 5 hours to get a full recharge and of course you can charge and playback at the same time using the DC power adapter with the power switch set to battery.
Or the Q7 will also play and recharge while connected to a PC with the USB charge button set to ON but at a much slower rate.
If you plan to do a dedicated desktop mode listening then you are advised to set the power switch to DC not only for enabling the ultra high gain but also for preserving the battery life.
The FiiO Q7 comes with a very generous bundle of accessories including:
A low noise external power adapter, a cooling stand with a fan, a leatherette case, pre-applied tempered protection film, dust cups for most of the inputs and four different USB cables.
The carrying case is a bit loose, just like the M17 one, but this time FiiO have included a couple of padded strips that you can attach to the inside of the case to fill the gap between and help with accurate button pressing.
Most of the listening tests were done with the HiFiMan Arya Stealth, Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD660S and Meze 109 PRO.
All headphone cables are of pure silver and made by Lavricables.
I have only used a laptop and an Android tablet for testing the compatibility, Bluetooth reception and sound quality of the Q7.
All critical listening tests were done with the iFi NEO Stream and the Cambridge Audio CXC CD transport.
For testing the DC power mode I used both the supplied switching power adapter and the FiiO PL50 linear power supply.
Power output, heat and noise
The Q7 is really powerful even without engaging the DC power mode.
With 1.5W/32Ω on tap from the balanced output it can run pretty much anything while switching to the DC power mode the output jumps to a whopping 3W/32Ω making it suitable even for inefficient planar magnetic headphones like the Susvara.
The Q7 has four gain settings under the battery mode (low, medium, high, super high) while plugging the DC adapter enables the ultra high gain.
The ultra high gain can be configured through the menu for auto enabling upon plugging the DC adapter or manual selection.
My advice is to leave this setting to manual in order to avoid accidentally blowing your earphones because the jump from any other gain to the ultra is quite big.
With the headphones I mostly used, like the HiFiMan Arya Stealth, Focal Clear Mg and Meze 109 Pro the super high gain was already too much while the Q7 got only mildly warm so I never used the cooling stand.
The working temperature remained the same even when the ultra high gain was enabled.
I don’t own very sensitive IEMs but with everything else that I have tried, like the FiiO FH7S and FDX, the Q7 offered a noise free, black background without EMI.
The Q7 is a neutral and transparent sounding DAC with top-tier technicalities and just a little upper-midrange/treble coloration that results in a slightly bright timbre.
Thus said the Q7 is not sterile and can still sound musical and engaging, at least with the proper headphone matching because of its highly unforgiving and revealing nature.
Gear matching is an essential part of the hobby but this is something that gets more important with such a lucid source as the Q7 which doesn’t impart too much character of its own.
The overall timbre is natural and not artificial minus a touch of treble glare, the tonality is quite realistic with a rather smooth and refined texture and plenty of harmonic wealth but this is the kind of timbre that you wouldn’t call too organic or analogue sounding.
The Q7 sound approach seems to be carefully balanced between musicality and technicalities but the latter have the tendency to slightly take the upper hand.
This is the type of DAC that will be more appreciated by people who favor technicalities over strict timbre realism, the Q7 has an energetic and highly spirited modern type of sound signature rather than something reminiscent of a retro vinyl set-up.
It certainly feels at home with all kinds of music and listening to classical music was an enjoyable experience especially with darker sounding headphones like the Meze 109 PRO and the Sennheiser HD650.
Both of them provided an excellent sounding partnership with the Q7 and one of the best matches you can get from a battery powered DAC/amp.
The bass performance is really amazing, it is deeply extended and very impactful, super tight and controlled, exceptionally layered and with the most contrasted and convincing dynamics even heard from a non desktop DAC/amp.
It hits hard, it is speedy with the correct timing and has a texture that is always full bodied and crystal clear.
The mid range sounds spacious and finely articulated with a full bodied, weighty texture in a neutral and linear frequency response but you can’t fail to notice an upper-mids intensity that extends to the treble.
This is not some kind of a frequency inconsistency, after all the Q7 is ruler flat measuring, this rather about how the second order harmonics and overtones get resolved with certain of them getting emphasized affecting the timbral coherency of the Q7.
The treble is crystal clear and transparent, sharp but still not aggressive and fatiguing even after a prolonged time of listening.
The Q7 is luminous and lively sounding with fast transients, a little lean on the treble texture, with just a touch of digital glare while it is very detailed but in no way artificially analytical.
The spaciousness and the ambience of the Q7 are phenomenal, the soundstage is grand sized with impressive reverb, laser sharp imaging and excellent depth layering.
It can do justice to every headphone you throw at it and of course it is particularly suitable for listening to large scale symphonic and choral works making sure that every performer is accurately positioned and clearly distinguished.
Battery vs DC modes
With the four default gain settings switching between the DC and battery power modes didn’t yield any audible differences and the sound output was exactly the same.
There was an audible difference though when switching to the pure DC ultra high gain even with easy to drive headphones.
The sound became more dynamic, powerful and impactful, driver control was better and the soundstage opened up a little more.
The giveaway was that with sensitive earphones some noise floor was now audible.
The ultra high gain is the Q7 ultimate mode that effectively bridges the gap between transportable and desktop performance, something to use whenever you are near a mains plug.
The FiiO PL50 linear power supply
In DC mode only and with the ultra high gain enabled, using the FiiO PL50 linear power supply is the icing on the cake.
Better clarity and deeper detail retrieval thanks to the absolutely black background, faster rise and fall times, speedier transients, quicker attack and astounding dynamics bring the Q7 sound and technical performance extremely close to completive desktop gear of the same category.
Compared to the FiiO M17 ($1799)
As is to be expected from their almost identical internal circuit structure these two beasts share a lot in common when it comes to their sound performance.
The overall sound signature is more or less on the same character, a well balanced mix between technicalities and musicality but the M17 is not merely the Q7 plus the Android OS and a large touch screen.
The M17 is superior sounding with a slightly more natural and realistic timbre that is absent of the upper-mids/treble glare so it manages to sound more musical and engaging.
A touch smoother and more refined, it resolves better and sounds more articulated and open with a grander holographic relief and sharper imagining, making the M17 the undisputable King of FiiO’s family of products.
Where it loses though is in sheer dynamics and driver control since the Q7 extra power reserves give it the edge in this department making it a better solution for harder to drive headphones and more satisfying when it comes to bass impact and rumble.
Of course the M17 is a whole lot more expensive and with this amount of money you can buy the Q7, a flagship smartphone and be left with some change for a bottle of a great wine too.
Compared to the EarMen Angel ($799)
The EarMen Angel is another transportable DAC/amp with the exact same price as the FiiO Q7.
It has a rectangular prism shape that makes it bulkier than the Q7 but it is considerably more lightweight.
If the Q7 is the world’s most inclusive DAC/amp then the Angel is an ode to minimalism.
No screen, no Bluetooth, no DC mode, less inputs/outputs and lower battery capacity, it is made for everyone who prefers something simpler to use and more easily transported without the need of the excessive power output and all the bells and whistles of the Q7.
Sound-wise while the Angel is not of a slouch when it comes to transparency, fidelity, dynamics and overall technicalities, the Q7 has the lead in all these departments and furthermore is more powerful, dynamic, impactful, resolving, detailed and open sounding.
But the Angel has an ace under the sleeve because while it loses a little bit in sheer technicalities and raw power, it makes up with an added dose of musicality, it is just more warm and organic sounding with a bit more realistic and natural timbre.
Both are great options and I guess that nothing is better for summarizing than the well known proverb “different strokes for different folks”
In the end
Following the steps of the M17, the Q7 is another all-in-one solution from FiiO that successfully bridges the gap between transportable and desktop gear in a superior even way.
With an excellent sound performance, numerous inputs and outputs, a relatively compact size, wireless connectivity, dual power modes, a maximum power output that even surpasses many dedicated desktop DAC/amps and a very competitive price, the FiiO Q7 is one device to rule them all and an end game all-in-one solution both while on the move and when back at home.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.