The soundstage is not quite wide and deep with the R7, so I wouldn’t say this is a spacious staging performance. The music is mostly in your head, so don’t expect it to race with higher-end sources. In its own right, the width is not bad at all, but there needs to be more depth and length in the stage in my opinion. However, a wide-sounding headphone should mostly cover this deficiency, so, in that case, you may not recognize any issues in the staging department.
For the price, stereo imaging is very precise and clean. This imaging performance provides a nice focus, and you can track down every element of any given song. Since the mid-range and treble are also clean/transparent, the air and space are on a good level overall.
This balanced and neutral presentation makes the R7 an ideal desktop music core. It lets the attached equipment do its job in terms of coloration and delivery. It just acts as a neutral, clean and crisp-sounding desktop source. So in the end, what you get from the R7 would mostly depend on the headphone/IEM/speaker you have. Another strong aspect of the unit is the detail retrieval. Since the overall resolution is good, the combined imaging performance is quite nice. The R7 also has great dynamism for the price, with great pace, rhythm, and timing.
You wouldn’t face any problems matching the R7 with different gear, as it gives a very consistent performance with a neutral and uncoloured delivery. Not only that, but the R7 also has five different gain options, so it’s extremely versatile. It performs consistently and coherently with both IEMs/HPs. I haven’t had any background noise issues with sensitive IEMs, and neither had I any driving issues with full-size desktop headphones. FiiO’s own FT3 requires good power for instance, but it isn’t a problem at all for the R7.
The Shanling EM5 is a fine device with a much different approach in terms of design. Both R7 and EM5 have great build quality. They both have good designs in their own space and brand image. However, when it comes to functionality and ergonomics, the R7 easily beats it. It has a tilted design (when you attach the silicone pad), a vertical screen with great touch sensitivity, and a much snappier full Android experience.
The EM5 has its own UI and closed software, so you don’t have any freedom at all. Shanling has a remote control app, but it’s not perfect with sluggish performance and fixed horizontal orientation so you have to use your phone in that position at all times. You don’t have any remote with the Shanling either. The R7 does but with additional cost.
Sound performance is good on both, but the EM5 to me sounds a bit more mature and musical overall. Its mids have a better timbre, its staging performance and layering tops the R7, and the treble is smoother. The R7 has a tighter and more neutral bass, more forward vocals, and a brighter treble. The sound stage however is narrow with the R7 against the EM5, as it sounds intimate and dynamic. Yet, the R7 has better attack and pace, with a quicker delivery. I would go with the EM5 if I have to ignore its software problems and ergonomics issues. The EM7 solves those problems a bit, but it costs much, much more than either EM5 or R7.
Of course, a higher-end full desktop system delivers better performance than a single device like this one, but the FiiO R7 is a fantastic piece of a unit for what it is. Its extreme versatility prepares it for every scenario of any audiophile, and it has a very pleasing user experience. The software in particular is well-thought-of, and I loved the fact that it’s very easy to use with a smooth performance.
It’s no doubt a great device and when you check the price, it’s not too expensive at all for what it does. And at this moment, it would be safe to say that there’s no device in the market that can be compared to this one. Sure, you have incredibly expensive standalone desktop units, but even then, they don’t have this much versatility and freedom. So, I think the new R7 deserves a spot in our DAC/AMP Combo Recommendations.
- Incredibly versatile
- Great design, build and ergonomics
- Great software and UI
- Great power
- Dynamic, resolving, neutral sound
- No remote in the package
- No remote control app (for now)
- The sound performance lacks some airiness and stage width
There is no upnp yet but it might be added later on trough a firmware.
Remote control through a smartphone is only available in pure Android mode.
Being a roon-ready device, I think this would make a perfect streamer