FiiO R7 Desktop Digital Music Streamer, Preamplifier, And Headphone
When FiiO sent me an e-mail showcasing their new R7 desktop stereo music streamer, preamplifier, and headphone amplifier it was perfectly timed. As a longtime classically-trained musician, I've been using a slightly 'outdated' source unit to stream music to play along to tunes. This could be via headphones/IEM or through a stereo pair of QSC K10.2 mains and KS112 subwoofers thanks to the R7's true balanced XLR outputs. In addition, this is a relatively portable piece of gear, which means when it wasn't being used for the percussion / drum set, it was easy to bring it into my home audio system or use it as a dedicated desktop headphone amplifier when tinkering with mechanical timepieces upstairs within my workshop. With a wide array of digital inputs, both wired and wireless, plus Roon certification... all controlled via an Android-based OS, it looked like a bargain at only $699.
Virtually every modern music lover streams music, this is a given in 2023. The new FiiO R7 provides a staggering array of flexibility. Digital inputs include Ethernet / NAS, SD card, USB-C, USB-A, optical TosLink, coax RCA S/PDIF, and dual-band wireless Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth. Digital outputs are TosLink optical, coax RCA S/PDIF, and Bluetooth 5.0 that supports LDAC / SBC / AAC while analog outputs are two stereo sets of unbalanced RCA and a set of right / left XLR true balanced. Yes, the analog balanced output is exactly that, a truly balanced XLR output as is found within all professional audio gear. Headphone and in-ear monitor lovers will rejoice as 4.4mm and four-pin XLR balanced outputs are right up front, as is a longtime standard 1/4" stereo headphone jack. For fans of Roon, you'll be happy to hear the FiiO R7 will work seamlessly. In addition, for DP output a Type-C cable can connect the R7 to a display with DP input, or you can choose a DP-HDMI adapter cable to send the video to your HDMI video monitor / home theater system. In addition, a mouse and keyboard can also be hooked into the FiiO R7 so it becomes a standalone Android-based computer system.
Carefully Chosen Parts
Qualcomm's eight-core Snapdragon 660 SoC chipset is mated with 4 GB RAM to ensure the Android 10 OS has an abundance of processing power. The R7 employs the highly-regarded ESS ES9068AS Sabre DAC chipset and high-output THX-788+ desktop-grade amplification chipset. As for digital file types, the FiiO R7 basically handles everything you can throw at it including Hi-Res Music true lossless PCM 32-bit/384kHz and native DSD256 audio signal decoding, plus newcomer proprietary MQA for those still clinging on to TIDAL versus migrating to higher quality Qobuz true lossless hi-res music.
With a total of five analog outputs (three headphone and two preamp) and five different output level settings to match whatever the R7 is feeding, it is easy to perfectly mate up so you can use the internal amplifiers' full 120-step volume flexibility. Over the years have tried various headamps, and applaud FiiO as with my custom in-ear monitors there was virtually zero undesirable background hiss. From IEMs and headphones to the QSC sound system, there were never any switching clicks or pops. Rest assured you'll be listening to a noise-free 'black' background with 3650mW of pristine power at your fingertips. During my listening sessions, I used the standard power cord plugged into various power conditioners / filters (depending on where the FiiO R7 was located). Those who desire to step it up power-wise can add FiiO's PL50 low-noise DC power supply ($150).
Now with hundreds of hours of playing, it was time for some serious, and fun, listening sessions.
Since my main initially-planned use of the FiiO R7 would be as the source for my QSC K10.2 mains (Studio setting) and KS112 subwoofers that together produce 8000 Watts of output power combined. Yes you read that right as each of the four speaker units include 2000 Watts of amplification. Thanks to the truly balanced XLR outputs the R7 was literally plug-and-play. We'll get to home audio use shortly. While I realize right off the bat this is an unconventional system by home audio standards, I can easily see the FiiO being used by Front Of House (FOH) sound engineers and music professionals who need a very high quality, flexible, and easy drop-and-go package to feed XLR balanced music. If a client brought an SD card, HD, etc, to hear their tracks, the R7 has got you covered. Having used the QSC sound system for years, and taking into account the sound 'personality' of a FOH system versus recording studio / mastering engineer setups, the FiiO R7 sounded incredibly impressive!
After hundreds of hours of use, the bass was now a touch deeper, and while excellent initially, it became ever-so-slightly more tuneful. Bass impact is solid, fast, and tuneful. The midrange also benefited from use as it also was less clinical and a smidge more musical. The highs seemed to open up an extend a bit, yet never strident or harsh. This is a huge plus, as anyone who has listened to various FOH / PA systems will tell you, if your source is 'bright sounding' it could very easily become an ear-shatteringly offensive experience. Odds are over the years you may have heard of such FOH sound systems. If you're a sound professional, rest assured the FiiO R7 brings to the table amazingly diverse flexibility for your clients plus a sound quality that is above typical offerings.
As a side note, I felt no need to use 'heavy' EQ'ing, though the R7 does include a very usable equalizer and of course whatever other 'effects' possible via the Android 10 OS system. And yes, the Google Play App Store works fine (thank you FiiO for using an open standard OS). This is important for both professional and home audio / personal use. Speaking of home audio and use...
I never felt 'lost' within the OS or limited access by (overly) deep access to certain features such as EQ, changing the display to a VU meter, etc. FiiO certainly pays attention to its customer's desires, flexability, and follows through with solutions. This includes as-needed firmware / updates promptly that will provide more features and flexibility. In fact just a few days ago FiiO released new firmware that is easy to load from the System menu.
If you've noticed by now within my review, I've used the word 'flexibility' quite a bit. That's because it is exactly what we have here.
At Home With the FiiO R7
As I await the (eventual) arrival of dad's circa 1971 Tannoy 12" Gold monitor speakers we purchased in England decades ago, my longtime Dunlavy SC-IV Sigs are mated to McIntosh MC611 monoblock amplifiers (600 Watts each, with plenty of headroom). As you can guess by now, the very clean output power is 'a given' within all systems here. FiiO R7's XLR balanced output directly fed the Big Macs. Occasionally I did use a touch of EQ to help 'extend' the uppermost highs a small bit (recording dependent), yet mainly avoided any EQ or other 'sound effects'. FiiO does include some sound adjustment settings, and found a few to be very usable (recording dependent). The great possibility with digitized audio is that you can use hi-resolution filters / effects. Sources included the typical hi-res apps, streaming from my NAS, or using USB / SD card. While I never tested the Roon interface, early reports from others are that it works flawlessly.
Listening sessions included classical music, acoustic jazz, deep groove funk, rock, prog, opera, and modern pop in its many soundscapes. Years ago I sent Chad Kassem part of my extensive vinyl LP collection. He / his employees said it was "the most diverse music collection they had encountered". I am writing this so you know the FiiO R7 was truly 'analyzed' over time using an extremely wide variety of musical selections (and within multiple systems and personal audio devices).
With all that said, the FiiO R7's sound was utterly superb, especially for the very reasonable $699 price. Wait, did I give the conclusion before the detailed sound notes I scribed? Why yes, yes I did! Overall, the highs are a joy and never, ever sounded brittle (unless the recording / sound engineer made it so). Mid-bass was very tight, tuneful, and had the appropriate impact without any exaggeration. The ever-so-critical midrange was especially realistic, with impressive natural harmonics (which can be 'more harmonious,' if you desire it, with FiiO's built-in sound effects). The upper midrange, a place where the ear and my listening skills are extremely critical, was nearly perfect. I'd say perfect, yet my 'job' is to nitpick so maybe add in more levels of the built-in Second Harmonic Regulation filter within the Audio setting. Speaking of settings, there are so many that it is impossible to give details of them all.
Love, love, love the upper-midrange and highs of the FiiO R7. Whoever 'tuned' the sound of the R7, I owe them a beer! While I've already described the QSC system that is very unforgiving, within my home audio system and various headphones and IEMs, the highs were truly a delight to hear! Sold deep bass being no slough, yet for those like myself who are sensitive to brittle sound you should immediately give a listen to the R7. Have discussed this with various friends, recording engineers, mastering engineers, FOH engineers, etc over the decades, and while we all love that glorious midrange and clean-sounding rhythmic bass, IMHO it is the uppermost octaves that can make or break a sound system.
For fans of an enveloping soundscape and immersivephiles, you're in for a real treat here! From ye ol' fave Roger Waters' Amused To Death in QSound to the latest musical offerings from The Hi-Fi Collective and other immersive remasterings, you'll hear whatever soundscape is within the recording. Mono recordings of Billie Holiday, The Beatles, and the like were tightly focused and had all the appropriate depth and layering as recorded. Overall, the soundscape is wide and deep with many naturally distinct layers if it's within the recording.
Given that the FiiO R7 goes for a reasonable $699, I find nothing to truly criticize. Yes I could wish for a bit more ultra-fi resolution or slightly smoother analog sound, yet those are where the laws of diminishing return come into play. There's much more that can be said, yet am already at a few thousand words. Am sure you'll be reading other reviews of the FiiO R7 digital music player / streamer / headamp, so perhaps it's time to round up my review. This brings us to the...
The FiiO R7 offers an abundance of the features many of us desire. Go ahead and try it within your listening room's sound system, or desktop audio with speakers, or to drive headphones / IEMs, or FOH.... Odds are very strong you'll realize the FiiO R7 is a keeper.
As always, in the end what really matters is that you...
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