In this review we review the FiiO M11 Plus ESS which is selling for $799 USD.
Disclaimer: FiiO sent us the M11 Plus ESS, free of charge, for the purpose of this review. In exchange, we’re going to give our honest opinion, as always.
Founded in 2007, FiiO went from being a small, chi-fi outsider, to one of the biggest companies in the audiophile world. IEM, headphone amps, DACs, and obviously DAPs, they did it all and did it well. So much that when a new player comes out, it usually becomes the benchmark that other brands have to refer to, like the FiiO M15 or the Q3.
We’ve already done the FiiO M11 Plus LTD, an upper version of the M11 with a THX circuit and a limited run dual AK4497EN DAC, freshly built by AKM before the fire catastrophe occurred. A very nice player, I considered “one, if not the best player you can get in this price range” at the time, which lead to an “Headfonia Award” for best DAP.
But, for now, AKM factory remains closed, waiting for the main warehouse to be completely repaired. So FiiO, like every other brand, had to switch for a different manufacturer, which could either be Cirrus Logic, Texas Instruments, or ESS Tech – spoiler alert, it was ESS.
And so, here’s the new FiiO M11 Plus ESS – not limited – that’ll replace the previous M11 Plus AKM. Is there a real difference? Time to find out.
The FiiO Series
Lately, FiiO’s DAP catalog has become quite scarce. They stopped the M6/M7/M9 production, due to the low supply of Samsung cheap chips, and since AKM chipset won’t be available until further notice, FiiO’s M11/M11Pro/M15 was also put on halt, as the stock ran dry.
But, I wanted to share some hindsight about them anyway, as many of you might want to get those on the second-hand market.
FiiO M11 (discontinued)
The FiiO M11 was my favorite DAP from this generation. It had a dual-micro SD slot, two AK4493EN chips, a widescreen with a full-android experience, and, the cherry on top, the asking price was in the sub-500, which made it one of the best bang for a buck players on the market, with the Shanling M6.
Sadly, dual-slot and dual-AKM have been too much of a stride for FiiO and the M11 production has been stopped for quite some time now. Here is an excerpt of my review:
“With its latest player, FiiO is pushing the last nail in the coffin, taking the crown as the best DAP in the mid-tier section. At the moment, I can’t think of any other player that can compete with the M11 : fluid UI, double micro-SD slot, solid WiFi connection with apk pure and the complete balanced layout.”
FiiO M11 Pro (discontinued)
If the M11 was not enough, you could get the premium version of the player, the FiiO M11 Pro. If they looked the same, the brand upgraded the player with a set of AK4497EN DACs and two THX-78B chips, for outstanding results.
Sadly, the second micro-SD port didn’t last, and the M11 Pro could only carry one SD card at the time. Even though, now that we have (affordable) 1TB cards, this is far less of an issue than when I got my M11.
Here is an excerpt of the review:
“This new M11 Pro costs $200 more than the classic M11, and it ditched the second micro-SD slot. So, if you’re on a budget or need a vast amount of storage, you may want to stick to the first version. That said, if sound quality is your main concern, all of those changes are of no concern.”
FiiO M15 (discontinued)
Until the brand releases the new M17, the FiiO M15 remains their TOTL player. Boasting a dual set of AKM AK4499 chips, independent shielding for digital and analog section, the best op-amps they could fit, and all the bells and whistles that go with it.
And, if the player itself is quite wondrous, providing one of the best sound experiences in the market, the gap between this player and the FiiO M11 Pro wasn’t massive, in my opinion. At least not enough to replace the M11 Pro as a daily driver… even if it did occur after a few months.
Here is an excerpt of my review:
“ The FiiO M15 is good, if not excellent. Yet, compared to the M11 Pro that we previously reviewed, the difference isn’t as wide as I’d expect it to be. Don’t get me wrong, the sound stage is great, power is deafening, and you get that crisp, breath-taking precision once paired with an end-game headphone/earphones. But, I wanted more. Maybe not an SP2000 killer, but at least something that would replace my M11 Pro.”
FiiO M11 Plus Ltd (AKM) (Discontinued)
Last but not least, here’s the FiiO M11 Plus LTD, the (pre)ultimate form of the M11: better than the standard, outpacing the Pro, preceding the ultimate – I’m sure there’ll be one in the future. It comes with a better CPU (Qualcomm 660), more RAM, THX-AAA78 headphone amps, and a set of limited-run AKM4497 chips, delivering exquisite sound.
Here’s an excerpt of the full review:
“Let’s make it simple, like the FiiO M11 Pro before, the M11 Plus LTD is one, if not the best player you can get in this price range.
UI is fast, the sound is superb, and it does almost everything well, either as a DAP or as a source. You can just fill it with your own music, install the music APP of your choice or simply use it as a great source for your car (yes FiiO did earn a certification for that too). Add a layer of finesse, thanks to years of work at FiiO’s engineer camp, and you got it all.”
FiiO M11 Plus (ESS)
You thought you had enough M11? You couldn’t be more wrong. Let me introduce you to the FiiO M11 Plus ESS! Same as before, but not limited to a single run and packed with Sabre DAC, instead of AK.
Want to know more about that new player? Get to the next page then, quick, hurry!
The article continues on Page Two, after the click here
Page 2: Design, build quality
Page 3: UI, Usage, Bundle
Page 4: Technical specifications
Page 5: Sound performance