There is no denying that everyone is streaming music these days. Unfortunately, while music curation and accessibility are at an all-time high, most folks are not exposed to the merits of high-resolution audio. Listening to music is a personal experience. It is art that has the ability to make you feel good inside. And, to lift your mood on a bad day. Then, pray tell me why would you not want to upgrade your listening experience?
Did that impassioned rant move you? Well, in that case, I want to talk to you guys about the FiiO M6 Digital Audio Player (DAP). If you are currently using a smartphone for your music-listening needs, you might want to check out this tiny beast. What follows is my full review.
FiiO M6: design and specs
The M6’s design is surprisingly refined for its asking price. It follows the glass sandwich design language followed by a lot of smartphones. In fact, the sides are made of brushed metal that feels incredible to hold in the hand. Couple that with the rounded corners and the compact size, the M6 is one of the most portable DAPs out there. Yes, the Shanling M0 is far more portable but it is not as feature-rich.
The front is dominated by the 3.2-inch LCD panel with a resolution of 480×800. This display is surrounded by fairly thick bezels. I would’ve ideally preferred a smaller chin, which would have made it symmetrical. This is just nitpicking, though. There is a Type-C port at the bottom for transferring data and using the device as a DAC for your PC/Mac. An extremely useful feature, in my opinion. The 3.5mm unbalanced input for headphones is on the top and for the professional audio nerds, there is no balanced port. There are four physical buttons in total on the M6. The power button sits on the top, and the play/pause, volume up, and volume down buttons can be found on the left edge. These are all circular in shape with above-average tactile feedback.
Now, you do get a dedicated card slot that can support up to 2TB microSD cards. This is apart from the 4GB of internal storage that is already present on the device. Talking about the internal specs, the FiiO M6 runs on Samsung’s Exynos 7270 SoC, the same chip that powers more expensive FiiO players. And, along with it, you get 768MB of RAM. This might look archaic in today’s day and age but trust me, this much is enough. The more important spec to note here is the ESS ES9018Q2c DAC that sits at the heart of the audio circuit. ESS Sabre DACs is one of best that you can find inside portable audiophile gear, so you really cannot go wrong with this spec.
FiiO M6: software and connectivity
As for the software, the M6 runs on a custom fork of Android 5.1. It is basically a scroll of pre-installed apps on the homepage. As for music players, you get FiiO’s default music player, Tidal, Moov, and NetEase Music. You can install Spotify, Hungama Music, and a few other apps by sideloading the APK files. The list of supported apps can be found here. Beyond that, running on Android means that you can easily update the software over-the-air (OTA).
The M6 supports quite a few high-resolution audio formats up to DSD 64/128. This also includes the more popular FLAC format. That’s not it, you can also connect your wireless earphones using Bluetooth and the M6 supports all the BT codecs, including LDAC. In fact, with the M6, FiiO is actually trying to embrace the wireless future by including the option to connect your phone to the player. This means you can connect your audiophile-grade IEMs to the M6 and use it as a BT AMP to play your music. You can go a step further and use FiiO Link to actually control the music playback as well.
Apart from music, you can view your photos in the Gallery app, if you are into it. However, I feel that FiiO might have missed an opportunity to add support for YouTube or some sort of video playback.
FiiO M6: sound quality and battery life
I tried the M6 with a couple of IEMs – the KZ AS10 and the Tin Audio T3 – and the Bower and Wilkins P3 headphones. The AS10 has a great low end and the T3 is pretty neutral sounding with a slight emphasis on the upper mids. You know what, the M6 is very neutral across frequency ranges. The M6 is a very resolving player that doesn’t skimp on the details in the soundscape. I would have ideally liked a wider soundstage for headphones but it does its job as well as any entry-level DAP can. That said, on the T3 – which has great imaging – sounds refined and probably the best that I have heard from any source.
I was even more elated when I realized that the M6 also does an excellent job by amping Bluetooth audio. I was floored at the quality of music I was hearing from Spotify on my phone. Extremely detailed and unlike what any phone can ever achieve. Overall, I am glad that FiiO has opted for a neutral sound signature for the M6. Heck, even the Rs 80,000 odd Astell and Kern Kann, is warm and musical in comparison. For a budget phone to achieve a neutral soundscape and to do it well is commendable.
FiiO claims that the M6 can last 13hrs on a single charge. And, during my testing period I got around 10 hours of battery life and that’s not too bad. Standby time is obviously better and FiiO claims 13 days on a single charge. Essentially, you will have to charge the M6 once every week.
Should you buy the FiiO M6?
At the time of publishing this review, the FiiO M6 is available for Rs 12,999. That is great value-for-money, which we have anyway come to expect from FiiO by now. Honestly, the M6 is going to be a no-brainer for many folks looking for an entry-level DAP. The problem arises when you look at the alternatives and those options look incredibly compelling.
The Shanling M0 is a more affordable DAP that is also much smaller. While it might be a cute iPod Nano lookalike, the M6 has a far more resolving sound profile and offers a whole lot more for the extra you will be shelling out.
The Cayin N3 is possibly the best alternative to the M6 and it is slightly cheaper too. I have been using one for the longest time but the M6 has a clear edge in terms of software, UI, and even the sound signature. The M6 is more neutral and lets the IEM/headphone do its thing without coloring any frequency.
Overall, the FiiO M6 is the best option for an entry-level DAP in my opinion.