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Review - Fiio R7

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - Fiio R7

The Fiio R7 has been sent to me on loan by Zococity, under the condition that I get to use the device for a week before shipping it back. They have requested that I post my opinions in the reproductorMP3 forum but no further requests or comments have been made.

You can find the R7 via Zococity here: https://zococity.es/products/fiio-r7

As with all my links, this is a non-affiliate link and I do not receive anything in exchange for clicks or purchases made.


Intro…

The Fiio R7 is an interesting device that got me curious when it was released earlier this year. While it could be simply considered a desktop DAP, it’s actually more of an all in one solution for both the desk and as a hub to serve other set ups that you may have at home.

I already run a similar set up in my home, with a central player/server feeding my desktop headphones set up, along with other systems around the house, but it is a combination of devices whereas the R7 offers all of that in one single device. At the time of putting this review together, the R7 is available on Zococity for 750€, so putting it up against all the separate units I have, the price is rather reasonable.

There is a lot going on with the R7, so I will do my best to cover most of the basics but there will be a lot of stuff I end up skipping (or forgetting) in my review, so please forgive me if I don’t answer whatever your specific query may be.

Presentation…

As this is a loan unit, I can’t be sure that all the contents and packaging are included. In fact, I received it without a power supply or even a power cable (the unit accepts both AC or DC power), so my guess is that there are items missing that would be included in a retail purchase.

As that is the case and the packaging is the least important part of the product, let’s skip straight to the build and aesthetics.


Build and aesthetics…

The best way I can describe the R7 is that it is like a small desktop computer with a screen and knobs on the front. The case is made of metal, with honeycomb openings on each side (backed by mesh) that allow for refrigeration.

The front of the device has a touch screen that takes up around ¾ of the real estate, which is basically an Android phone in portrait mode. To the right of the screen there are two knobs (with the top one being a push button also), beneath which we find a 4 pin XLR balanced headphone output, a 4.4mm balanced headphone output and a 6.35mm headphone output.

Spinning around to the back of the device, we find a myriad of connections. 2x sets of unbalanced RCA outputs, XLR balanced outputs, micros SD slot, USB C port, USB A port, optical input, optical output, coaxial input, coaxial output, RJ45 lan port, DC power input, AC power input, a selector switch for choosing between AC and DC, a 220v IEC connection and a mains power switch. As you can see, there is no shortage of connectivity on the device, and that is without the Bluetooth and WiFi connections which are internal.

The device looks modern and will fit well on any modern style desk set up, while being small enough to even be placed on a small bookshelf or similar and not stand out. There are coloured rings around the knobs which change depending on the status of the device and add to the modern vibes of the device.

Everything seems to be well built and I am a fan of the aesthetics, although that is obviously a very personal thing.


Functionality…

There are so many options and functions on the R7 that it would take ages to go through them all and, as my reviews are already too long most of the time, I am just going to go over the basics and mention some of the things that catch my attention.

As the device runs on Android, arriving with the Play Store installed (at least on the demo unit I have received), you can install most apps of your choice on the R7. It uses a Snapdragon 660 processor, which is the same processor as the M11s (and the M17) that I reviewed a while back, although in this case we have 4GB of RAM rather than the 3GB found on the M11s.

Both devices (the R7 and the M11s) run Android 10, however, even though the R7 has the extra 1GB of RAM, I do find it to be a little more sluggish in use than I remember the M11s being. As this is a tour unit and I am not the first person to use it (nor have I reset it to factory settings), it is possible that some apps have been installed and are slowing it down slightly. I haven't seen anything that stands out and it is possibly just leftovers from previously installed apps, I haven’t really dug into it too deep, but I just find it to be a little slower. Not terrible but noticeable.

Scanning my test SD card from the Fiio Music app took around 24 minutes to read and load just under 10,000 songs on the R7, whereas the M11s did the same thing in just over 7 minutes.

 I will point out that the translation to Spanish seems to be the same as on the M11s, with the same spelling mistakes and incoherent phrases that I found on the portable DAP. Things like “ignore all tracks under 60 years old” are still present, so Fiio still haven’t found anyone from the 486 million people that speak Spanish natively (or the many hundreds of millions more who speak it just as well as natives) to give them a hand with checking the translations 😉

Focusing for a moment on the hardware functionality, as I mentioned in build, on the front we get two balanced and one unbalanced headphone outputs, with two knobs located above them.

The top knob, apart from being a volume control, is also a push button that switches the device on or off. Pressing the button for a couple of seconds powers the unit on, greeting us with the Fiio logo on the screen and the cycling of colours around the knobs, taking around 20 seconds to boot and be ready to play. To turn the device off, we press and hold the same button which brings up a quick mode select menu, with a power soft button at the top right, pressing the soft button brings up an option to turn off or to restart, pressing the off option brings up another off soft button which, when pressed, finally turns off the device. There is no way you will accidentally power off the device, at least from the touch screen. Underneath the screen there are 3 touch buttons which serve the same sort of features as on any Android device. These buttons are located in the black glass surround of the screen, meaning the do not take up any screen real estate and are always present, which is a nice touch.

When turning the volume knob, this brings up a red dial on the screen, reminiscent of a car speedometer, that shows the volume level in digits in the center, the current set gain level underneath and the volume level also on the dial surrounding this info. I don’t find the volume knob to be very smooth when turning, or rather the digital response (the knob itself is very smooth) as it does seem to skip a little when turning fast. However, once the dial is shown on screen, you can just slide your finger up or down to change the volume, which is much faster and smoother in its response.

The other knob on the front of the R7 is to choose the output type. There are four positions which allow you to choose between headphones+pre out (PO+PRE OUT),, headphones output only (PO), preamp output only (PRE OUT) and line output (LO). The line output disables the volume control, whereas the other modes each remember individual volume settings and gain modes when switching between them, something that is very useful.

As far as other hardware controls, we have a mains power switch on the back, along with a AC/DC selector switch. The R7 can be powered by either 100-240V AC, by means of a normal IEC cable, or via an external 12V 3A DC power supply. This means that you can opt to use an external linear power supply if you prefer (which, according to Fiio, “gives your sound an even purer, blacker, background to really make the details pop”). You can choose which power supply you want to use by using the selector switch before turning on the main power switch.

Moving on to the virtual (or rather OS) device controls, we have a quick access to the mode menu that I mentioned before by holding the power button/volume knob for a second or so (a quick press of this button just turns the screen from on to screen saver or off, depending on your settings). This quick menu allows you to choose between the following modes:

- Android mode

- Pure Music mode

- Airplay mode

- USB DAC mode

- Bluetooth Receiver mode

- COAX mode

- Roon Ready mode

- Optical mode


Selecting any of these modes will do exactly what their name suggests. The Android vs Pure Music modes are the same as those found on other Fiio DAPs, where the device can disable all other apps other than the music playback, avoiding any external interference.

In Android mode, we get the usual Android 10 user interface, with a few tweaks to suit it more to the R7. Dragging down the usual top menu, we can decide what we want it to show, with the options to:

- Turn WiFi on or off

- Turn Bluetooth on or off

- Access the same menus that we get from pressing the power button, but in a simpler text format

- Switch Gain level (between Low, Medium, High, Super High and Ultra High)

- Turn on Fiio Roon mode

- Convert all to DSD

- Activate Dark mode

- Activate Night mode

- Rotate screen (this will turn the screen upside down, no horizontal mode is available)

- Invert colours

- Send screen

- Access files

- Share with nearby


There are a couple of things that stand out to me from these options. For example, the send screen option is pretty interesting as you can mirror the screen of the R7 on other devices, such as a Chromecast or other cast devices. This means you could, in theory, show the screen of the R7 in another room of your house. However, I say “in theory” because I have not been able to get it to see any of the devices on my network. I have many kinds of different devices that can receive casts (smart TVs, smart monitors, Chromecast, Fire TVs, etc.) but none of them can be found by the R7. Now, it’s possible that I am just doing something wrong (maybe probable rather than possible, as I didn’t spend too much time with it) but I played around with different settings and still did not manage to get it working.

Another thing that I find interesting is the rotate screen option. This basically turns the screen upside down, allowing you to place the device upside down. Personally the only reason I could see someone needing this for is to have the headphone outputs at the top left instead of the bottom right, yet this would make all the text labels be upside down and, in my opinion, the physical controls harder to use. I could see the benefit of being able to rotate the screen to a horizontal mode, for real estate reasons, but that is not an option.

In the normal Android settings we get the options we would expect on the device, with a couple of things that are a nice touch (although I haven’t had chance to use them personally). These are things like the ability to add VPN’s and share WiFi, which could both come in handy.

As far as the specific audio options in the general settings, we get the following:

- Enable/Disable Optical and COAX outputs

- Select SPDIF output type (DoP or D2P)

- Select Gain (just another way to access this)

- Choose between 3 filter modes

- Choose Bluetooth encoder (LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, SBC)

- Choose LDAC playback quality (the usual “optimized for audio”, “best effort”, etc.)

- Bluetooth volume adjustment mode (synchronized or independent)

- Balance (adjust from L to R)

- All to DSD (another way to activate this)

- Second Harmonic Distortion regulation (3 different levels).


Again, some of these things are interesting and nice to see, such as the balance adjustment, the Second Harmonic Distortion regulation) and the SPDIF type selection.

Focusing on the actual music playback, as usual, I have used the included Fiio Music app, along with installing Tidal. You can try out the Fiio app on any of your Android devices by downloading it from the Play Store, so I am not going to go deep into it. Basically we can choose between local files stored on the device (which accepts both a micro SD card or an external USB drive, via the ports on the back), or play from DLNA or NAS.

One thing I did find strange with the Fiio Music app on the R7, which I don’t remember being an issue on the M11s, is that I could not play back all files from the SD card except in “All Songs” view. When navigating to the folder that contains all of the albums (each in their own folders), the “Play All” option appears but tapping it does nothing (although the screen does show that it has been tapped).

In my review of the M11s, I mentioned that it had a multifunction button that could be assigned to skip to a next random track, without setting the device to random. This is a function that I really liked as I listen to music a lot in that way when on PC (using Foobar). I will have the player set to just play in normal order, with a quick shortcut that just skips to a random track when pressed. This means that when I get bored of listening to whatever album I am listening to, I hit the random skip button which takes me to something completely different. When I have randomly skipped a couple of times (sometimes more or less), and I come across an album I feel like listening to, the player just keeps playing that album in normal order.

I can put up with not having that “random” button that was so convenient on the M11s but not being able to play back the whole library from anything other than “Songs View” and set it to random is something that I can’t do without. This is because, in “Songs View”, the files are no longer ordered by album but in alphabetical order, so I can’t do the random jump and then keep listening to an album from there. This is obviously a personal thing but is something that I use a lot.

Accessing my music server was fairly quick from the Fiio Music app, a lot faster on first load than my PC using Foobar. I am not sure how many tracks (or albums) I have but my main music server is around 4TB, so there is quite a lot of music on there. Switching between views, from Album view to Song view etc., is also pretty quick, taking just 10 seconds or so, which is quite respectable.

Once again, when playing back from the server, the “Play All” function only works in “Song View” mode, so I face the same issue as above.

One last thing to mention before moving on (this section is already far too long!) is that the coloured rings around the knob change colour depending on the format of the track. In other words, depending on the quality of the track (44.1/16, 44./24, DSD, MQA, etc.), the knobs will give you visual feedback by means of illuminating in yellow, blue, purple etc.


Sound…

Ok, so finally we get to the sound part and here I have found that the R7 suffers from the same issue that the M11s did. When comparing the playback between streaming services and local files, the sound quality is very different.

As I said in my review of the M11s, it is normal for all players to exhibit a difference in sound between local and streamed files but on the Fiio it is much more apparent than on other devices. When comparing the local files to those on Tidal, there is much less liveliness to the tracks that are being streamed. Again, this is something to be expected to a certain extent but is more exaggerated in the differences than I would like. 

To be honest, I don’t usually use Tidal at home as I already have plenty of music on my server, it is more something I use when out and about or in the office for music discovery. My wife is the one that uses streaming services in our house and she is still a die hard Spotify fan (due to how easily it integrates into all of our systems throughout the house).

That means that the difference between Tidal files and local files are not as much of an issue for me with the R7 as they were on the M11s, as the R7 is a stationary “at home” or “in the office” device, not something that I would take with me away from my networks that already have my music collection available on them.

I say that it is not an issue as playing back the tracks from my server via the network presents no audible difference to the same track being stored locally on the SD card of the R7. Admittedly this is not a blind test but switching between server and local seemed to sound exactly the same and at the same volume level from both sources.

That means that the decrease in quality when streaming from Tidal could be due to the way that Tidal interacts with Fiio but I do remember that Spotify also sounded worse when I tested it on the M11s, although I haven’t tested it here.

So, how does the R7 sound? Well, focusing solely on songs stored locally (or on my network), I think it sounds pretty good. Going by memory, I think it is a little colder than I remember the M11s being but it is still very reminiscent of the sound of the DAP.

On the R7 we have a ES9068AS DAC (rather than the ES9038Q2M of the M11s) paired with dual THX788+ amplifiers, which I feel could be responsible for that slightly more clinical sound. Again, this could be all in my mind, as it is a while since I listened to the DAP, but that is the impression I get.

What this does mean is that we have quite a bit more power on this desktop version, very clean power I may add, with 5 levels of gain and a maximum output of 3.6W. This translates into the R7 powering anything I have on hand with ease, from sensitive IEMs through to power hungry planars (although I don’t have anything super demanding), without any noticeable issue.

Playing with the second harmonic functions, it does take away a bit of the coldness that is present in normal (level 0) mode, so that allows us to tailor the sound a bit more to our personal tastes if that is something we like, although I would say that it never really becomes “warm”.

Using the balanced outputs to feed my main speakers proved to also be very clean and rather clinical, something that can be a very good thing, depending on what the speakers are and what you prefer to feed them with. If you have a speaker set up that provides you with a sound signature you like, then the output of the Fiio is not going to interfere with it.


Conclusion…

The Fiio R7 offers a lot of functionality in a package that I feel is very well priced.

If we focus solely on sound, then I can’t say that it is amazing and it isn't something that I have fallen in love with, but that does not mean it sounds bad, far from it. I have used it for many hours, with many different headphones (and a few speaker set ups), and I really don’t have any complaints about it, just that there are other combinations that I prefer personally. I think this competes with the majority of combo units out there that are priced at the same level or below.

But that is not what makes this device special. The things that set this unit apart from the crowd are that you can use it as an all in one streamer and headphone DAC/Amp, or just as a DAC/Amp, or just as a DAC, or just as a streamer, or as a Roon endpoint, or just about anything you wish, except for a simple amplifier, as there is no analog input. To be honest, although I obviously haven’t been able to test it purely as an amplifier, I don’t think it would be my choice for that purpose at this price anyway.

There are a few things that Fiio could polish in the UI of the device but at the same time, I think that the multiple use scenarios put it in a position where it really doesn’t have much competition. The only other similar device that comes to mind is the Shanling EM5, which has similar functionality but is a different format (much larger and with the screen on the top) and is also more expensive than the R7.

Again, while it wouldn’t be my first choice based solely on the music reproduction (because of personal preferences and not because it is bad), I could easily think of half a dozen scenarios where I could fit an R7 in my system, and many more scenarios where I would recommend it to others (in fact, I already did recommend it to a couple of people I know).


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