FiiO M17 Review: One of the best audio players

FiiO M17
FiiO M17

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I really love it when the winter festive atmosphere is complemented by acquaintances with various audiophile flagships. It’s about time for some warm home music listening sessions, right guys? And this time, a truly charismatic, amazing audio player came to me, which left a lot of strong impressions.

So, I’m glad to present: FiiO M17 portable desktop player . These two definitions, of course, look strange side by side, but you can’t say otherwise. If you want, I can still call the model a portable hospital. The trend towards creating such devices is now extremely relevant, recently I myself wrote a review about  Shanling M30 , about  Astell & Kern Kann Alpha , and the limited iBasso DX300 MAX absolutely won my heart, but the well-known and experienced  brand FiiO also had to make his move. The company’s engineers have been developing the M17 for almost 2 years, the new flagship offers not only high power, modern functionality and a huge variety of connection methods, but even control variability.

It’s just a monster in terms of versatility and choice of usage scenarios, the owner will get much more freedom than with the usual small Hi-Res players . But, most importantly, how well prepared is the sound here? And is the price tag, which is about $2,150, justified? Let’s figure it out. To business.

Visual impressions

 

Well, in front of me is an elegant and heavy, but rather small cardboard box. On the cover there is an outline image of the player itself, as well as a brief listing of the main characteristics. To be honest, this time it was especially sweet to print the film, it’s not for nothing that we are in the midst of the time for gifts.
The set of accessories for the FiiO M17 is quite generous: a leatherette case with a metal insert on the back designed for cooling, a USB Type-C cable, a power supply, a protective glass on the screen and a paper clip. The latter briefly bleaked me out, anticipating a microSD card slot with a tray. I don’t like them, but oh well.

Design

 

What can I say… It’s audiophile heavy artillery. Heavy in every way, yes. The player weighs 610 g, has a solid aluminum body of a large size, in a case it becomes even more voluminous. Such brutality, complex chopped edges and chevron-shaped slits on the sides give the impression of a military style in the design. We will assume that the M17 will become an audiophile military commander. Although the appearance of the model is also not without elegance – the glass on the back has a holographic iridescent pattern, the ventilation holes have received customizable RGB lighting, and the connectors are covered with metal plugs. But, I repeat, this is a heavy brick that can kill, next to it my Ultima SP2000 seems like a baby. However, I think if you decide to buy a new product, you are ready for it.

 

Firstly, we have a bright and juicy 5.99-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2160×1080. Its sensor is extremely sensitive to touch, which pleased me. From the unusual – there is a gyroscope that automatically rotates the screen if you decide to look at the player in a horizontal orientation. Everything is like a smartphone that has only grown to Hi-End sizes.

Secondly, we are offered 2 volume control modes at once – either with the help of an analog wheel, which reminded me of similar controls for Lotoo player models , or with buttons. And if this variety is not enough for you, there are as many as 2 charging ports here – a regular USB-C and a connector for a complete power adapter.

Also on the case there are mechanical buttons for switching tracks, pause, on / off, a multifunction key, toggle switches for blocking and choosing between battery or mains power. I note that it is not very convenient to use the buttons in the stock case, it does not fit snugly enough to the side faces. And the memory card tray, which can only be opened with a paper clip, I would also attribute to the minuses. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

Functionality

 

Let’s start with the madness that is the M17 connection interface set. These are headphone outputs 3.5, 4.4, 2.5 and 6.3, the first two are also linear, RCA coaxial input / output, USB-C 3.0 for data transfer and charging, USB-C 2.0 for connecting to an external DAC or hard drive. Typical Hi-Res players are only now massively switching to a combination of three connectors at the same time, standard 3.5 and balanced 2.5 and 4.4, and FiiO has already cunningly raised the bar further. Waiting for someone to add an XLR headphone.

Key Features

 

The novelty received two stationary 8-channel DACs ESS ES9038 Pro. Supports signal resolution of 32bit/768kHz and DSD512. There is full 8X MQA decoding, which will be useful for users of streaming services.

The operating system used is open Android 10 with the ability to install any third-party applications. We have Wi-Fi 2.4 / 5 GHz, DLNA and AirPlay, updates over the air, an equalizer, 7 digital filters. For Bluetooth version 5.0, the Qualcomm QCC5124 chip is used for receiving and sending, there are high-level AAC, aptX, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, aptX HD and LDAC codecs. XMOS XUF208 is installed for USB, the player can work as an external sound card.

As a result, the characteristics of the model are top, the usage scenarios are very diverse – with conventional Hi-Fi headphones , with speakers, with a desktop DAC, with a computer, with a hard drive, with TWS or wireless acoustics , with a Bluetooth source, etc. Given the serious cost, this is the right approach, I expected something like this, since we are talking about FiiO. If they manage to make quite suitable devices for a penny, it would be logical for the flagship model to allocate as many chips as possible.

All players in the M series offered fast and trouble-free firmware, and the older M17 was no exception. Thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor and 4 GB of RAM, no crashes were observed during testing. But if you do not need Android, you can switch to Pure Music mode, it is implemented adequately.

By the way, there is only 64 GB of internal memory, but there is support for microSD cards up to 2 TB. And the ability to connect an external drive, which I already wrote about.

The electronic filling of our hero is well thought out and verified. The digital and analog parts are powered separately, and they are also physically separated on different boards to reduce mutual interference. Inside, 7 special high conductivity copper alloy screens are used. Other components are also flagship: exclusive Dual THX AAA-788+ amplifiers jointly developed by FiiO and THX, OPA2211 operational amplifiers, 470 mF DMF supercapacitors, NDK femtosecond crystal oscillators, LT3045 LDO ultra-low noise linear voltage regulators.

The power figures of the FiiO M17 are impressive; according to the balance, the player delivers 3 watts into 32 ohms. There are 5 Gain modes: low, medium, high, on-ear and high gain. The latter is available only when connected to the network through the power supply unit from the kit. In practice, the potential here is good, but not outrageous, most full-size players will shake, but for tight planars, I still recommend choosing a stationary one. But even with the most sensitive IEMs, there is no background noise. But there is heating during operation, although special attention is paid to heat dissipation, for this, VC liquid cooling technology is used inside, and the aluminum case is designed accordingly so that heat is distributed correctly.

It remains to talk about autonomy. The M17 has a capacious 9200 mAh battery, claimed up to 10 hours of operation through single-ended outputs and up to 8 hours on balance. There is support for QC3.0, QC4.0, PD2.0 and PD3.0, 2 charging ports and 2 working modes. Since the player has several power supplies, rechargeable and for a stationary connection to the network, using the toggle switch you can choose which one you want to use. When using power from an external DC source, the built-in battery is not involved in the work and, accordingly, does not wear out.

Sound

Handwriting FiiO M17 driving, natural, weighty and large-scale, I would even say – monumental. It is distinguished by assertive energy, each composition receives additional confident expressiveness, the notes have strength and density. Also pleased that FiiO got rid of the recognizable synthetic tint that has been common to many of their models for a long time. The timbre palette of the new flagship is emphatically authentic, without unnecessary harmonics or artificial sonority. She is pleasant and honest, not tiring, even, perhaps, cozy. In addition, the stage here, despite its huge size, is excellently centered, the positioning of the instruments is close to the listener, but the separation of plans remains accurate and holographic due to the excellent dynamic range.

In general, the presentation already reaches the level of resolution when you put on headphones and feel a real panorama with live performers in front of you. There are no annoying accents, “digital” sharpness of contours, fractional harsh micro-detailing, deliberate sparkle and other classic Hi-Fi tricks that make the musical character of the device more engaging, but less natural. The M17 plays spectacularly and atmospherically, but precisely at the expense of power and scope. Otherwise, its sound is transparent, measured and clean, with detailed transfer of textures, volume and relief throughout the spectrum. An adult, if the term is appropriate. I was especially fascinated by the working out of any vocal parts, their fullness, flexibility, physicality, rich range of deep shades.

But the model is able to pick up complex high-speed tracks without problems. Truth, the solidity that they get here is sometimes not entirely appropriate and can shackle them a little. Although this is already a conversation about a taste choice, what is closer to you – a bit dry technicality or realistic weightiness. M17 is clearly inclined towards the second path. However, a good punch, the ability to keep up the pace and a dedicated unmistakable click do not allow the picture to become overly fused, lazy or viscous.

As you understand, the whole artistic description boils down to the fact that we have before us practically a universal. Does he play with his own money? I think so. I myself could live with pleasure with this player, if he came to me for good. We didn’t have any conflicts in mood, long audiophile sessions did not cause fatigue, the device coped with serious music with dignity. Genre-wise, he is omnivorous, to the quality of the material, surprisingly, he is not picky, and he also knows how to harmoniously sing with a variety of headphones.

By frequency

The bass is massive, articulate, three-dimensional, deep and booming. Their impact and hardness are boosted, but not so much that they lose range control. As a result, we get a large, full-bodied, dynamic rhythmic pattern with luxurious texture variability and good separation. The contribution of power is especially felt, the nature of the low frequencies is closer to a hospital than to a portable one.

The middle is distinct, weighty and natural. I would call it smooth and melodious if the length of the notes were a little stronger, but M17 is able to become not only emotional, but also restrained. More attention is paid to macro, but small nuances are also distinguishable, they are softly and neatly woven into the main melody. The stage is wide and open, the localization of sound sources in space is impeccable. The timbres, as I already wrote, are neutral. And the main advantage is the very naturalness of the handwriting, thanks to which the record comes to life. This is very valuable. Bravo. I didn’t expect to ever say this about the FiiO player. Well, from the minuses – I wanted more micro-details, and personally I didn’t have enough brilliance and free grace on the upper middle ones for acoustic instruments, I prefer even more pronounced whipping and brightness on the high frequencies.

High frequencies are clear, fast, transparent and cool. Despite the presence of a slightly metallic tint, they do not cut the ear with causticity or sibilance. Although warm overtones could be added to them, the upper treble layers are inferior to some of the more expensive models in the number of multi-faceted overtones and in exquisite saturation. But they smoothly complement the overall style of the M17, being strictly in place, and have excellent definition, readability and crystal.

Comparisons

 

Let’s start with the  FiiO M15 . Once I did a review of this player, I also liked the sound of it. Driving, high-speed, exciting handwriting with wonderful detail. Compared to the M17, it has more dryness and aggression, timbres are louder and sweeter, the general disposition is closer to entertaining cheerfulness, although it is quite comfortable. But the new flagship clearly surpasses its predecessor in terms of resolution, naturalness, dynamics, impact, stage scale and holographicity. Of course, if you are ready to carry such a heavy piece of music with you. If not, the M15 is still quite an interesting player in its portable weight category.

And a few words about iBasso DX220 MAX, this is a direct rival of the hero of the review. Large, powerful, stationary and portable. Its ergonomics has a number of, to put it mildly, features that complicate the interaction – charging two separate batteries, the absence of physical buttons for switching tracks. But the sound of the DX220 MAX is really good, it’s not for nothing that it became a hit among audiophile gourmets. Well, now he has a dangerous competitor. The iBasso limited edition differs from the FiiO flagship by enhanced brightness, a characteristically brightened timbre range, highlighting small nuances, warmth and a light V-shape of accents, involving, but not so comfortable. The positioning of the instruments here has a longer distance, this allows you to stretch the scene more vertically and display the arrangement of shots more neutrally, while the M17 plays more voluminous, but at the same time more intimate. Drive, sweeping dynamics and a sense of power are present in both players. But FiiO M17, in my opinion, is a little more versatile.

Conclusion

The FiiO M17 is one of the best audio players on the market for early 2022 and will continue to be the go-to choice for a very long time to come. Here they did not save on power, technologies and components, and the sound delivery was not overly tasteful. If the issue of compactness is not fundamental for you, I definitely recommend the novelty for review. Although I think it’s worth listening to anyway, it’s an interesting audiophile experience. But, of course, you must take into account the large dimensions of the device case and its real weight, it is still a niche product, it is important to understand its features. And for its tasks – a great thing. I hope the review will be useful to you, and good luck guys.