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April 2024

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

 

FiiO M17 Portable Desktop-Class Music Player Review
An organic-sounding high-resolution music streamer and Hi-Res Audio DAC.
Review By Tom Lyle

 

FiiO M17 Portable Desktop-Class Music Player Review An organic-sounding high-resolution music streamer and Hi-Res Audio DAC.

 

  Being an audiophile means that convenience isn't our number one goal. If you are anything like me, I am an audiophile because I love music and want to hear recorded music with the best sound quality possible. This is true even when I'm listening to recorded music when not sitting in the sweet spot in front of my audio system. This means listening through headphones, often using a portable digital audio player (DAP). Until the technology advances so that a small Hi-Res Audio DAP sounds as good as a large one, audiophiles will be listening to devices such as the FiiO M17.

 

The Impresive FiiO M17
Like other top-tier DAPs, the M17 is a rather large, heavy digital audio player. It sports a plethora of features, some of which I found useful and others I found no use for. But still, those features are there if I need them, such as using the M17 as a stand-alone DAC or connecting this player to an outboard DAC. The M17 can also be used as a headphone amplifier, a power supply, and has other functions.

The M17 is currently FiiO's top digital audio player. I've been using it for about a month, and there isn't anything that this device can't do. Yes, it can play music, which is how I use it almost all the time, other than when I tested its other functions for this review. I listened to music using its pre-installed music app, "FiiO Music," which can play any format I can think of and includes all the music files I store on hard drives, most of which are FLAC and DSD files.

The M17 is possibly one of the largest digital audio players most of those reading this review have ever seen. The FiiO M17 is about 3.5" wide, 6" long, about 1" thick, and weighs about 1.33 pounds! Since I don't have any other players equal in size or price, I reviewed the M17 in absolute terms, only comparing it to those I've owned or heard in the past.

 

Liking
Like most DAPs, the M17 has an equalizer to tailor the sound to one's liking. In addition to its "regular" EQ, FiiO ups the ante by providing a 10-band PEQ (Parametric Equalizer), which can equalize each user-defined frequency band. One can then choose how wide or narrow each frequency one wants to adjust. As nifty as this equalizer is, not using the EQ, leaving the player flat, sounded best. I like hearing precisely what the musicians and producers intended in their recordings.

 

 

Headphones
I used a variety of headphones for this review. At the very least, all were more than decent, and some premium headphones let me hear exactly what the FiiO M17 was sonically capable of. In addition to the workhorse open-back recently rebuilt Sennheiser's HD-600 phones, I also used one of, if not the best, Sennheiser closed-back headphones, their HD-820. I also used some of Grado's headphones, all open-back models, including their PS-2000e and their more modest SR-325e. I also used the discontinued but outstanding (and very comfortable) planar magnetic OPPO PM-1 headphones.

 

Hot
A component such as the large FiiO M17 might become too hot. Yes, there have been times during the audition period when the M17 became quite warm, but it never became burning hot. However, once, I forgot to turn off its power, which was the only time it became much warmer. So, I can understand why FiiO includes with the M17 the DK-3 "Multi-Function Dock." This is a heavy-duty, all-aluminum "Uni-body" stand with a two-speed fan to cool the unit. It also has silicon feet to avoid slippage. The DK-3 could come in very handy when using the M17 as part of a desktop system.

 

Similar
Some features of the M17 are very similar to other high-end digital players. One can store music on the M17's 64 GB internal hard drive, but it also has a micro-SD card slot for loading music and, depending on the size of the card, can store many more music files. Nearly all the time, I listened to the M17 using an SD card that was already formatted for use in a FiiO player. I owned 128 GB and 1TB cards with a tremendous amount of music files. I was also never at a loss for new music because I could add Tidal and Qobuz high-resolution streaming apps to the M17's desktop since the M17 behaves like a cell phone that cannot make phone calls. It uses an Android operating system.

 

 

As an Android device, this is why one can load just about any app one wants. I couldn't help but remember when I used an Apple now discontinued iPod Touch to listen to music. Like the Apple device, the M17 has all the functions of a cell phone, although it is not designed to make and receive phone calls. There are many differences between the FiiO M17 and Apple's old iPod touch, but the most significant difference is in their sound quality. The M17's sound quality is light-years better than that of the old Apple device.

The FiiO M17 also connected to my home network, enabling me to play music from any shared folder on the hard drives connected to my computer-based music server.

 

 

On The Top
A pair of USB outputs are on the top of the M17, allowing one to use the M17 to send a signal to an outboard DAC. The M17's volume control is a convenient, audiophile-style smooth-running wheel on top of this player. There is also an input for the M17's power supply. On one side of the player are controls for the next and previous tracks, a multifunction button that can be programmed for practically any function, and a hold switch that prevents one from accidentally activating one of the M17's controls.

On the other side of the M17 are a volume up and down (only the wheel works when using its music player app) and a BAT / DC switch (Battery / DC power, which switches automatically when DC power from the M17's power supply is attached). The entire front of the M17 is taken up by its massive 6" display.

 

 

Each channel of the 17 has a "desktop class" eight-channel ES9038PRO "flagship" DAC. So, each channel of the M17 has eight parallel outputs that are added together "for superior resolution, minimal distortion, and extremely pure audio reproduction."

 

Component
The FiiO M17 can be used in many ways: as a digital music payer, a DAC, a DAC / amplifier, a digital source, and as a desktop component. In a way, the M17 is a miniature integrated amp / DAC / computer! The M17’s Android operating system can be switched off so one can listen in "pure music" mode, which is said to improve its sound quality.

There are many functions of the M17, but I used the FiiO M17 almost exclusively with headphones to listen to music using its integral player app. But no matter how I used this digital player, it should be no surprise to anyone who has used a FiiO product that the M17 performed admirably and way above its price level. I'll cut to the chase and say I've used no other digital player with such a hefty price-to-performance ratio. I've even tried to use the M17 as a source in my main audio system. I wouldn't use it in place of my reference computer-based music server connected to the EMM Labs DA2 converter and the Pass Laboratories HPA-1 or Woo Audio WA2 headphone amp. But regardless, the FiiO M17 sounded pretty darn good!

 

 

I can see many audiophiles using this player as a desktop component as a source connected to an outboard DAC, but that DAC would have to be a top-flight model if it were to better the sound of the M17's internal DAC. This is likely why the M17 sounded so good every time I connected a set of headphones to its mini-jack input. During the audition period, I used top-flight headphones, which I would implore the user of this player to use unless one doesn't want to enjoy its full sonic potential.

 

 

Favorite
The Sennheiser HD-820 headphones I used for this review are currently my favorite. Their closed-back design might cause some to doubt their ability to sound as captivating as their open-back counterpart (Sennheiser HD-800S) but leave it to Sennheiser to assuage the nay-sayers by using a glass reflector and ring radiator transducer to made it so its "sound field" (a headphone's soundstage) is as wide and natural sounding as some of the best open-back headphones on the market. But I digress. But only to explain why I fell in love with these 'phones and to stress that the FiiO M17 doesn't give a hoot about how sensitive or insensitive one's headphones are.

 

 

Audio
If I were reviewing the M17 as a full-sized component in my main audio system, I'd describe its sound quality using the cliché "an iron fist in a velvet glove." With size comes power, and this idiom was especially true when using the M17 when plugged into the wall outlet using its AC to DC power supply. When using its battery, its output power lowered, but sonically, there was such a slight difference in sound quality it wasn't audible unless I squinted my ears.

Regardless of genre, source, or a file's resolution, what I heard from my headphones was the epitome of "audiophile sound quality." Yes, that description has become a bit of a cliché ever since "audiophile sound quality" has been appropriated by the mass-market audio industry. But I'd be wasting the reader's time going through each recording and attempting to elaborate on what I heard, such as its slamming, deep bass, transparent midrange, and sparkling treble. This is because the recording determined the M17's sound quality and which headphones I was using much more than the sound quality provided by the M17. In other words, the M17 sounds exceptionally transparent. I can think of no greater praise for an audio component.

Some might describe the M17's sound as organic. Maybe this is because its sound tends toward having a "large" sound that is smooth but does not skimp on the amount of detail. The M17's resolution is outstanding. Add this to its frequency response, which I consider unlimited in scope. Perhaps when I describe the M17's sound as smooth, it is because it is not at all fatiguing. I listened to the M17 for hours without feeling any desire to stop.

 

 

Conclude
I'll conclude this review by mentioning that I've purchased several FiiO digital audio players throughout the years. What all these FiiO products had in common was that their price was much lower than that of other similar players on the market. The bottom line is that I was extremely impressed with the performance of the FiiO M17. It is excellent — and highly recommended.

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Emotionally Engaging

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Hi-resolution digital audio steamer, DAC, preamplifier, and headphone amplifier
Display: 6"  1080 x 2160) touchscreen display
SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660
DAC: Two ES9038PRO
Amplifier: THX AAA-788+
Bluetooth: QCC5124
USB receiver: XMOS XUF208
Crystal Oscillator: Two NDK femtosecond crystal oscillators
Operation Modes: Android / Pure Music / USB DAC
                        Bluetooth Receiving / AirPlay / S/PDIF Coaxial Decoding
Dimensions: 6.25" x 3.4 x 1.1" (HxWxD)
Weight: 1.33 lbs.
Price: $1,799

 

 

 

Company Information
FiiO
No.21, Longliang Road
Xialiang Village, Longgui Street
Baiyun District
GuangZhou, China

Voice: +86 136 605 40625
E-mail: sunny@fiio.net  
Website: FiiO.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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