For the purpose of this review, I used my Unique Melody Maestro for IEM testing and the Sennheiser HD-800S for headphone comparison. All files were FLAC 16/44 or FLAC 96/24 from Qobuz, be it in USB DAC mode or pure player mode.
Streaming comes from Spotify in “exceptional” mode and low gain
Unmistakably, the FiiO M9 sounds… like a FiiO player. Even if the brand uses various DACs for all its players, I’m always surprised to find the same typical sound signature across them. A subtle emphasis on the mids, a narrower sound stage than iBasso but zero hiss whatsoever on all my IEM.
The sound stage is still wide enough for 90% of the tracks I listened to, even if you stick to the classic 3.5mm output. The balanced output push it on higher grounds, adding a layer of depth and this should be your main choice if you have compatible headphones.
Compared to the FiiO X5 Mark III, the one that the M9 should be replacing, it’s a real upgrade. The background is much cleaner and I could hear subtle details, on the M9 that I couldn’t hear on the X5. It’s one of the most satisfying sensation, to rediscover some tracks each time you listen to them. It’s not Astell&Kern precise of course, but in this price range I’m pretty sure you’ll have a hard time finding a more coherent presentation, sonically speaking.
I tried Summer 3 from Max Richter Recomposed, a classic revisited. It’s a good test track with violin, viola and a massive dynamic range. If the FiiO M9 gave me a lot of details, it’s unharmful signature was also its flaw. The highs are a bit too smooth and you can feel a little roll-off once you’ve passed the 10kHz border, but that’s FiiO signature.
The overall signature is lush and should suit all genres, however, the M9 really shines with jazz records. I tried the DAP with a few diva tracks like Norah Jones “Sunrise” and the experience is exquisite. On modern track like The Hills from The Weekend, it works well too as the FiiO signature corrected this V-shaped song.
The output power is good for IEM or portable headphones but don’t expect to drive big cans like the Sennheiser HD-800. On mine I had to plug another amplifier to the line-out, if not the headphone would not give me any bass…
Highs : clean but expect a roll-off after 10kHz. If you find Sabre ESS chips too harsh, the FiiO M9 would be a good choice. The highs are balanced and never felt tiresome even with hard-hitting dubstep as I listen sometimes. For a new listener or if you want to discover classical music, this player could be a potent choice.
Mids : smooth. The “plat de resistance” of the FiiO M9, excellent timbre restitution, good sound stage and all the details you would expect from a DAP. Batteries and guitars feel alive, be it rock and folk or heavy metal, voices are perfectly rendered, there is basically nothing bad to say.
Lows : a bit too soft. The FiiO M9 felt a bit shy on the lower end, the X7 Mark III or Q5 gave me a better impression on this side. If you really want to get the best of this player, plug an amp to it. It’s good but it’s not slamming as I’d love to hear, the bass seems too soft for me out of the box. Once properly amplified, it sounds much better and you really feel the potential of the M9.
Noise : good point, I never heard noise whatsoever on my IEM. If a silent background is your top priority, you should look out here.
A versatile player, that was the goal of FiiO with the M9. With a lot of features, Bluetooth duplex, WiFi streaming and evolving hardware/software, the brand has made big improvements from the previous generations. It’s a smaller device, definitely more portable than before, yet it feels sturdier and nimbler. I still prefer the FiiO M7 design, but it doesn’t sound as good.
Sound is very good as you would expect, the FiiO M9 carrying the brand signature. The sweet sound of numeric I should say, as the DAP never felt harsh once. If you want a bright signature, I’d suggest another brand or model as this one is intended to please none but all.
Access to third party-apps and Bluetooth duplex alone, make it a top choice for me. For 299€, it’s simply the most versatile audiophile player you could get at the moment. The perfect blend of audiophile prowess, compact design and Swiss-knife capabilities. Get this and a Q5, you’ll be fully equipped for years.