Review: FiiO M9 – Wizard of the East

The Fiio M9 portable player is the successor of the nice M7 DAP. In this article we look at the newest Fiio DAP.

 

Disclaimer: The FiiO M9 was sent to us free of charge in exchange of an honest review. The MRSP is 299€ as I’m writing this and you can get it from Fiio’s official dealers.

About FiiO

Since 2007, FiiO has always aimed to become one of the top brands in the audiophile game. Based in Guangzhou, China, they rose steadily and somehow achieved their goal : Being available all over the world and build products known for their excellent performance/price ratio. If the FiiO X3, X3 Mark II and X3 Mark III were outdated in terms of UI, the latest FiiO M7 has become one of the best choices in the 200€ DAP range.

Sleek design, great sound, solid UI and low price, FiiO marked all the good points.

Today, we are reviewing the FiiO M9, who’s supposed to be the top player of the new “M” range.

 

The FiiO DAP Series

FiiO X3 Series

In 2013, FiiO launched its first DAP : the FiiO X3. It was not specially pretty, didn’t have Bluetooth or WiFi and got a strange layout with misplaced buttons. It was bulky, the screen was tiny with a massive gap between the glass and tft screen. Compared to the iPod, the king of of the DAP, it looked rather outdated but it had two advantages : it was 199€ and it used a Wolfson WM8740 Chip.

When the audiophile world were waiting for the Pono, the FiiO X3 appeared as the first true mainstream audiophile player. Sure there was already some Rio Karma or Hifiman HM-801 out there, but compared to them the FiiO was both cheaper, lighter and much more user friendly.
It sold like hot cakes and put the brand under the spot.

The second generation trade the odd design for an iPod mimick. A physical scroll wheel surrounded by buttons with a 3:2 screen. It was an evolution more than an evolution but people liked the low price/high value ratio. And so on with the Mark III, still available up to this day, even if the FiiO M7 is a better deal now.

FiiO X5 Series

Bigger and beefier than the X3, the FiiO X5 was a double down version DAP. Double micro-SD slot, double amp, double the size and double the price. The first generation used a Burr-Brown chip and was much more powerful than the X3, allowing the use of meaner headphones.

There were a few accessories to bundle the FiiO X5 with the FiiO E12, the headphone amplifier. It was a nice audiophile sandwiches providing enough power to virtually drive anything, for a little price. At the time, it was one of the best budget combo you could get, even more if you took account of the double micro-SD slot.

The scrollwheel was not the easiest one to use and was prone to failure overtime. Issue corrected with the X5 Mark II, smaller and easier to use, and the X5 Mark III finally ended with a full touchscreen and android OS. This one is still available with most retailers but it should be replaced by… the FiiO M9 !

FiiO X7 series

The FiiO X7 and FiiO X7 Mark II were (or are) the pinnacle of the brands. They offer a removable amp system, the best DAC, a beefier SOC and a better screen. Even for today standards, they offer great performances for the price, the Sabre ESS DAC offering the wide dynamic range we all crave for.

In term of sound, the difference between the first generation and the second isn’t that much. The X7 Mark II got a second micro-SD slot, a classy volume wheel and a faster SOC. It’s compatible with the FiiO K5 and DK1, two docks for line-out or pre-amp giving you a more versatile experience.

FiiO M7

Introducing the total revamp of the FiiO Line-up, the FiiO M7 is one of the classiest player available in my opinion. It’s basically an Astell&Kern AK120ii but cheaper and lighter. Lieven made a comprehensive review of this player and he really liked it, go read it here.

The player is available around 200€ and is a real step-up from the FiiO X3 Mark III. The UI is faster, the sound is better, and it’s simply improve all the features in every ways.

Casing

The FiiO M9 is a nice little player, the full-aluminium body feels light yet sturdy. There is no crack and no gap on any place you can see or touch, FiiO even removed the screws ! Compared to the FiiO M7, I still prefer the prior one though. The M7 feels more balanced with its rectangular shape and right-positioned scroll-wheel, the M9 inaugurating a new design.

The left side of the player is rounded, getting all the buttons and scroll-wheel, where the right side kept the simple straight design. Visually I’m not really convinced, it reminds me of the last Onkyo DAP but in a FiiO robe. That said, the quality of the build has progressed by leaps compared to the old generation.

The FiiO X3 and X5 were a good choice in the 200-300€ price range thanks to their good sound/price ratio, yet they were bulky. Plus, the choice of a central scroll-wheel to mimic the iPod was not the best option if you had a massive music base. The more conservative format of the FiiO M9 combined with the touchscreen feels both nicer and simpler.

Layout

“Goodbye central scroll-wheel, you are now moved to the left corner.” I’m not entirely sure that’s how it went, but I’m pretty sure some FiiO engineers thought that. It’s clearly the most distinctive feature of the FiiO M9, visually speaking, the golden scroll-wheel.

A noticeable scroll-wheel for the volume and a red ring on the power button, it’s a gimmick first introduced on the FiiO X5 Mark III. Only the wheel survived on the M9, which is strange since the FiiO M7 kept both of them. Another strange quirk: where the M7 had a wide and flat scroll-wheel with the famous red lining, the M9 got a fully golden wheel, rounded.

Its neat design is underlined by the whole design of the M9 but if you’re right-handed, it feels a bit awkward. The volume wheel fits perfectly under my thumb, when the player is backward. If you’re left-handed it’s perfect and maybe that was the goal : to make the first left-handed audiophile player.

On the lower end, the layout is made of :

– 1x 3.5mm headphone/line/coax output.Single ended to suit the majority of headphones/earphones. For those who rely on external amplifiers, this is the port you have to use.

Surprisingly, this Output also works as the coaxial Output, to plug an external DAC and keep the M9 as a source only.

– 1x 2.5mm TRRS headphone Output. The one to plug your balanced headphones/earphones to. This FiiO didn’t succumb to the 4.4mm sirens yet, which is a good news for me not much for some of you.

All the outputs got a nice golden ring, like the iBasso DX120, which doesn’t make a big difference sonically speaking, but adds a nice touch of luxury, like the volume wheel. Next to those outputs, you have the all new usb type C, supposed to be the next generation all-in-one connector. The integration is perfect and you won’t have to worry about loosly connection in the future.

All the buttons are put on the left side of the Fiio M9. From up to bottom you have: 

  • the power/sleep button, 
  • the volume wheel, 
  • the play/pause 
  • the next/preview track control

A little issue I had with the power button : if you use the silicon sleeve, each time I removed it I powered on the player unintentionally. 

Overall, it would be unfair to criticize the design and layout of the FiiO M9, even more when you know it costs only 299€. In this price range, it’s one, if not the best build I’ve come across these last months. If the IBasso DX120 feels sturdier, the M9 is much sleeker.

Screen

The FiiO M7 amazed me with its screen but I felt less convinced by the M9. The size of the screen is roughly the same but the bezels are HUGE. In a world of border-less screens, be it smartphones or TV, the M9 feels inadequate with half a bezel half a centimeter wide left and right, up to a full inch on the bottom. I would have preferred a bigger screen, even if at the end FiiO would rise the MSRP.

Contrast-wise the M9 is ok but the screen brightness is not very high. In a well lit environment the screen will look pale and lavish. In your classic work space or at home, you may not see the difference. It’s still better than FiiO X5 Mark III or X7 Mark II screens, especially the viewing angles. The resolution makes up for the sheer size of the screen, everything looks crisp and sharp, as it should be.

Also, you can finally change the wallpaper, with any picture you have stored in the FiiO M9 memory. It’s a small detail but it’s not so common, even with modern DAP.

The review continues on Page Two, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.

Review: FiiO M9 – Wizard of the East
4.4 (88.24%) 17 votes

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

    6 Comments

    • Reply November 27, 2018

      User

      Worst review ever

      • Reply November 28, 2018

        Lieven

        Thank you. Come again.

    • Reply November 27, 2018

      Parta

      I have a Fiio Q5, is it an upgrade if i buy the M9.

    • Reply November 27, 2018

      Juan Luis

      So the dx120 and n5ii have better sound quality? I have a cayin n3, but i need to upgrade for my Meze 99 Neo and Dunu Falcon C.

    • Reply November 29, 2018

      Rob

      Hi reviewer. This was an interesting and informative review, thanks. Your writing is unfortunately full of grammatical errors, which reduces the quality of the reading experience. I’d be happy to do a quick edit on your next review before you post it if interested. Cheers.

    • Reply December 10, 2018

      Raphael

      Thank you for the great review. I have a question regarding the M9 vs X7ii. Which would you choose if you could buy either one for the same price? I use streaming services a lot.

      Thank you 🙂

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