Disclaimer: FiiO kindly supplied this M6 direct, for the purposes of this review and a forthcoming YouTube video. I paid nothing for the M6, and have used the hell out of it. Partial spec are below, but it’s a FiiO. That means amazing Bluetooth and a bunch of features well worth the look. The M6 goes for 179$ USD. You can find out all about it here: FiiO M6 Hi-Res DAP.
FiiO’s M6 Hi-Res DAP is compact and well constructed. It has decent battery life, a small but good selection of hardware buttons, a somewhat programmable interface, and good sound. But it’s not a player that moves me, nor is it one I think that will move you.
RMAA: FIIO M6 24-BIT
RMAA: SONY ZX300 24-BIT
RMAA: COWON PLENUE J 24-BIT
RMAA: ASTELL&KERN AK70 MKII 24-BIT
RMAA: SONY NW-WM1Z 24-BIT
RMAA: GLOVEAUDIO A1 24-BIT
RMAA: HIFIMAN MEGAMINI 24-BIT
RMAA: ONKYO DP-S1 RUBATO 24-BIT
RMAA: ASTELL & KERN AK70 KAI (RYUZOH MOD) 24-BIT
RMAA: ASTELL&KERN AK70 24-BIT
RMAA: THE BIT AUDIO OPUS#1 24-BIT
RMAA: SHOZY ALIEN GOLD 24-BIT
RMAA: COWON PLENUE D 24-BIT
Important specs and features this review:
Sabre ES9018Q2C DAC
WiFi streaming including AirPlay
LDAC and HWA Hi-Res wireless audio codec support
13 hours battery life
OTA firmware updates
Haptics and build: ohmage and porridge
The M6 will slip into almost any pocket or crevice. If this were the Netherlands and not Japan, I’d be average height for Caucasian male of 39. I’m slim-ish and my smoothly calloused hands straddle the line between working-man, metrosexual. Still, I can nearly palm two M6s, side by side. That, my friends, is compact.
And, normally, compact is great. But a combination of compact and slippery is a real bugger. The M6’s smooth aluminium frame slips if your hands are dry, rough, working-man hands. For you, the included TPU case will help keep the M6 from slipping out of them. If you’ve got damp, soy-laden, or other city-made hands, the M6 should stay put regardless. As a sometimes-worker, but basic soy boy myself, the TPU case comes in handy, but isn’t absolutely necessary. It’s not the best fitting case. The M6’s shiny screen peaks out of it. And the case it pops on and off a bit too easily. Any serious drop is bound to crack the screen or otherwise dent your M6.
And what a screen it is. Like the M6, it is compact, but for a modern budget-conscious DAP, it is glorious. Glorious is its 480x800 pixel spread, which is far, far better than any similarly priced or sized DAP I’ve used. Its colour and contrast are good. Glorious never turns ghastly, but hot corners, colour ripples, and poor view angles stick out sorely next to a smartphone of almost any vintage.
The M6’s lack of a home button can make tiresome the process of getting into and back out of deep menu items. Because the process is context-dependent, it will take one swipe here, or five there to return to the home screen. Another issue plaguing the M6 is the inscrutability of many of its labels and icons. Obviously, they are better than Cowon’s Plenue D. I’ve had that for years and still can’t figure out what’s what. But even the Onkyo DP-S1, which is a great dehumaniser, is often easier to suss. The most benign of these labels is filter settings, whose iconography looks like an EQ graph. Others, such as USB DAC functionality, are engaged variously at various places and bound to the UI with little consistency.
Engaging the on/off switch brings up a brilliant, if tight music playback interface. Heart for favourite, track forward, back, and pause- all there. Of course, each is tiny, and thanks to touch problems, can be hard to engage. We’ll get more into that later.
What the M6’s interface lacks in consistency it makes up for in features and general ease of use. The FiiO Music app takes a bit of time to load, but scrolls smoothly, and updates on the quick. Bringing up sound enhancements is easy as pie. Generally, its touch screen is responsive. Accuracy, however, is another matter. Prior to firmware 1.01, removing or deleting files from albums or playlists carried a 50/50 chance of success. Adjusting EQ settings was closer to 10/90. Post upgrade, the former is closer to 60/40 and the EQ, whilst still ridiculously frustrating, is probably good for a 20/80 success ratio. The other interface boner shows itself when tracking forward or backward within songs. Within long songs in particular, the accuracy rate is timed by the minute, and sometimes the tens of minutes.
Like the Onkyo DP-S1, the M6’s firmware can be updated over the air, which is nice. Depending on connection quality among other things, however, OTA updates can take anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. Keep your battery topped up.
None of these problems are the result of the M6 being small. The last-gen iPod nano worked perfectly despite being less than half the size. It packed in a useful home button and generally relatable icons/labels. If it’s a matter of programming, FiiO need to get on it, and quick, because aside from poor touch targeting and problems of UI consistency, the M6 is great. I love that you can modify the lock screen, turning on or off any of its navigation and volume buttons. I love the placement of the power button. I love that the M6 uses USB-C for charging and interfacing with your computer as a USB DAC. Finally, face-up insertion of micro SD cards is great. While still a bugger to cram in, inserting your favourite card into the M6 is way easier than it is in the Plenue, DP-S1, or AK380.
The M6 is functional rather than showy. It comes with the basics, and works generally as advertised. Neither Chinese gold nor American chrome mar its basic worth ethic. What do - UI programming errors - matter in a wholly different category. And not its box nor its accessories, and certainly not the reliability of its UI show great care for the brand. If FiiO want to be taken more seriously by upscale manufacturers and users, they need to address the issues that drag down their brand.
As long as you can get Android Transfer Tool working, you can upload a maximum of 2GB onto the M6. That’s enough for all the square waves, RMAA files, and calibration tools you’ll need to complete standard sound quality comparos. Anything more? Slot in your Sandisk. The rub is, that for 179$, 2GB is chintzy.
The M6’s library updates when you want, or when it wants. If you select the latter, it will update only when files are newly added. This helps to keeps card sync times down, which is great because checking a 200GB card every time takes time. And the M6 syncs faster than either the Plenue D or the DP-S1. This is the sort of detail that makes a brand stand out. Let’s have more of it, Fiio.
Battery life: ohmage and porridge
FiiO advertise thirteen hours of playback. The haphazard tests I conducted put the M6 at around that, a bit less with heavy mixed usage, and a bit more when playing music on repeat. That’s about 1/4 of what the Plenue D is capable. WiFi usage considerably lessens battery life, while Bluetooth‘s impact is marginal. Not bad. Not great.
Sound: ohmage and porridge
No matter how full, generally detailed, and airy the M6 sounds, and certainly in spite of its badge, it isn’t ‘hi-res’ in any objective term. It plays the files you need, be they 16 or 24 bit. It nails wireless audio, be it Bluetooth or WiFi. But in no use case scenario does it tap out signals with levels of noise, distortion, dynamic range, stereo separation, etcetera, which can meaningfully beat out good-old 16-bit Red Book.
Of course, I’m of the strong opinion that high-resolution audio is meaningless. A perfect culmination of quality recording, mastering, instrument capture, and most importantly, playback volume, all of which exceed 16-bit bounds, isn’t possible. 16-bit is all you need. And, the M6 nails 16-bit. It also nails gapless, a category of playback that no music player should forget, but many still do.
Apart from a mild but inaudible dip in the highs from 10kHz to 20kHz, and irrespective the load, the M6’s output is linear. If you fancy even softer highs, engage the slow roll off filter, it is lovely. The M6 shows low jitter, boasts great stereo detail, good levels of instrument texture, and it sounds pleasantly warm. Better yet, it hisses as little as an iPhone SE, which, even through the most sensitive of earphones, is next to nothing. Plug in your Shure SE846, Ultrasone IQ, or their like, and you’ll get just the teeniest, weeniest bit of background noise in the best and most dynamic recordings.
Unfortunately, an iPhone SE gets louder, and almost across the board, boasts performance peaks above the M6. The M6 holds load better, making critical, cross-headphone volume matching easier. Unfortunately, one of the M6’s outstanding features - AirPlay capture - is pointless if you purchased the M6 for better-than-iPhone sound quality. If your iPhone is from 2011 or earlier, maybe, just maybe, the M6 will outperform it. On the other hand, if you’re snagging an AirPlay signal from an iMac, the M6 is a sure upgrade. But if you’re stuck to WiFi at home, chances are that you have better-sounding gear at your fingertips.
For me, the chalkier warmth of an iPhone 4/s is hard to beat. But it hisses too much. The M6, whose hiss levels are low, and whose signature hasn’t fallen far from the iPhone 4 tree, is just about nails my preferences.
The M6 also nails Bluetooth in every conceivable way. Nearly every codec is covered, and range is good. You can turn it into a Bluetooth receiver and pair it with your iPhone, where it will get similar wireless range to a first-gen FiiO BTR1.
And, without downloading extra apps or tricking anything under the hood, the M6 natively plays back DSD files. Of course, with the right app you can get your iPhone to do the same thing, and your iPhone will outperform the M6 in nearly every sound-related category.
While the DP-S1 and Plenue D cost a bit more, they boast larger internal storage and better battery life. They also perform far better, the DP-S1 in particular measuring as well as DAPs costing ten times as much. One thing the M6 does better than the Plenue D is keeping stereo signal linear under load. Where the Plenue D collapses when driving low-Ω earphones and portable headphones at loud volumes, the M6 stays steady and flat, ensuring great detail in all frequencies.
All in all, the M6 is a mystery. It’s not a great performer in any paint-by-numbers test scenario. But it’s got the right amount of warmth, and in the right places. For that reason, I prefer listening to it over to my iPhone SE, and at its price point, it is one of my favourite-sounding players.
But because it doesn’t perform better than an iPhone, or anywhere near what you’d expect from a “Hi-Res” branded device, its singular sales point is locked into wireless playback, which, admittedly, it does well. But do your tunes sound that much better through low-compression Bluetooth codecs than they do through SBC or AAC? While I’ve not set up a blind test of the group - nor would I even know how to start - I doubt there would be much between them.
All in all, the M6 is a good-sounding, full-featured DAP whose objective performance measures are sub-par but which entices with its warm-ish, stereo-rich sound character.
The M6 sounds good. It nails wireless codecs and signal quality, but falls back where measurable sound quality is concerned. A dedicated, ‘Hi-Res’-labelled DAP whose signal quality is worse than or on par with a modern smartphone is in a tough spot.
At first glance, the M6 is surprisingly well-designed for such a compact DAP. It is also surprisingly good sounding. But its UI missteps are many in a body whose size permits few to no interface errors. Features be damned, given its performance ceiling, UI shortcomings, low quality branding and accessories, its 179$ price tag is steep.
If FiiO can at least fix its myriad GUI problems, the M6 will be easier to recommend, but not without a price drop.