FiiO R7 desktop streamer/DAC headamp
+ Beautiful monolithic form factor; streaming capability is not an afterthought; accurate sound representation; flat reference tonality; five gain settings; a whole laundry list of features.
– Buggy with Apple AirPlay; sounds the same as other THX AAA amps; may sound dry and sterile to some; picky with source.
A guide to the ratings
IF you have a penchant for modern and quirky devices, the FiiO R7 desktop DAC/headphone amp with streaming capability is definitely a standout. The brand requires no introduction, as it has been catering to audio enthusiasts at every price point for 16 years. With the R7, you get a high-performance desktop THX AAA DAC/amp that incorporates the connectivity of a modern-day streamer, all wrapped within a familiar Android operating system.
The unboxing experience was truly delightful. The packaging was meticulously designed, much like FiiO’s other products, and the included accessories are useful for newcomers. The package contains a standard IEC power cable, a USB-C cable, a quarter-inch-to-mini headphone jack adapter, two bases, four double-sided stickers for the bases, a quick start guide, and a replacement fuse. There are also two headphone-out covers that cover either all of the ports or just the 4-pin XLR.
The package includes two silicone bases, allowing you to choose between a flat or tilted set-up. On my desk, the tilted base worked best as it improved the viewing angle. However, if you plan to incorporate it into a stereo set-up with an audio rack, the flat base might be a more suitable choice. A remote control (FiiO RM3) is also available separately for RM65.
The unit sits comfortably on the desk, occupying minimal space. It measures 160 x 110 x 134mm and weighs just under 1.3kg. Despite its lightweight nature, the silicone base effectively keeps it firmly planted – even when connected with multiple line out, USB, and power cables.
Speaking of connections, the FiiO R7 offers a wide array of options. It features both an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi connectivity for streaming purposes. Additionally, it supports Bluetooth SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC and LHDC. The USB-C port allows you to utilise it as a USB DAC. Furthermore, both USB-C and USB-A ports support various devices – I had my external hard drive connected to play music directly from it.
I even tried connecting a USB mouse and keyboard, and they worked seamlessly. Essentially, it possesses the versatility of an Android phone.
To expand upon that, the FiiO R7 is equipped with an SD card slot, which includes a micro SD converter. Additionally, it offers both coaxial and optical digital inputs and outputs. For analogue outputs, you have the option of single-ended RCA and balanced XLR connections. However, it does not have any analogue inputs.
The headphone connections include a four-pin XLR, a 4.4mm Pentaconn, and a standard quarter-inch headphone jack. Although I didn’t notice a significant improvement when switching from single-ended to balanced output, all of my headphone listening impressions were based on the 4.4mm Pentaconn output for best use-case scenario.
Underneath its honeycomb-meshed exterior, the FiiO R7 is powered by the Snapdragon 660 processor, which handles all the computing tasks and USB conversion protocol. The DAC chip used is the esteemed ES9068AS, providing support for true balanced output. In order to achieve THX AAA certification, the R7 incorporates two THX AAA 788+ amplifier modules. While there are numerous technical specifications that could be listed, it’s worth noting that it supports virtually all audio formats with an impressively low total harmonic distortion (THD) of less than 0.0005% at 1kHz.
Another intriguing feature of this device is its ability to utilise an external 12V/3A power supply, bypassing the internal unit. FiiO also offers a compatible PL50 linear power supply, providing further opportunities for fine-tuning and squeezing additional improvements out of the unit.
The FiiO R7 offers five gain selections: Low, Medium, High, Super High, and Ultra High. Additionally, the output can be adjusted using a knob with four options: headphone out+pre out, only headphone out, only pre out, or only line out. When selecting the line out option, which bypasses the volume control, the unit displays a confirmation pop-up to prevent any potential damage to connected speakers.
The device features a 4.97-inch portrait touch screen with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels. Its functionality is similar to that of an Android phone or dedicated audio player. The volume knob also serves as the standby button, where a single click brings up the lock screen, double-clicking puts the unit to sleep, and a press-and-hold action displays the mode selection and shut down.
There are a total of eight different modes to choose from: Android, Pure Music, AirPlay, USB DAC, Bluetooth Receiving, Coa, Roon-ready, and Optical. It’s worth noting that I cannot provide personal feedback on the Roon feature, as I don’t have a Roon account to test it.
Due to the cornucopia of functions this unit has, I tested the R7 on almost all of my equipment – both desktop and stereo. There’s a lot to unpack here because it’s frankly the Swiss Army knife of music players.
From the headphone out, the FiiO R7 projects music with precision and accuracy. The THX AAA 788+ amplifier modules definitely sound flat and have that reference-audio aura to it. But its strength is definitely not unique – at least among THX AAA amplifiers. If you’ve heard one, you’ve probably heard them all.
The terms “clinical” or “sterile” are sometimes thrown around to describe THX AAA amplifiers, and while I may not entirely agree, I can understand where those descriptions are coming from. The sound signature of THX AAA amplifiers does have certain characteristics that teeter on that fine line.
For example, when listening to Jennifer Warnes’ track Way Down Deep from her album The Hunter, the drum impact may not make the headphones rattle as much as with the EarMen Angel or Chord Hugo, but the texture of the leading attack and decay is still perceptible. There’s a notable sense of spaciousness between instruments, and vocals are presented with remarkable clarity, neither forward nor recessed. This level of clarity extends to both female and male vocals, resulting in an impressive listening experience.
On Super High and Ultra High gain, I could drive a pair of Sennheiser HD650 to its potential easily. There’s still plenty of headroom available so lower sensitivity headphones are welcome. The R7 doesn’t break a sweat when presented with albums like A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead and Yellowjacket’s self-titled album. I couldn’t find a fault from the rendition of these two albums as the R7 exhibited control and poise.
The tone is just shy of being natural. As an Achromatic Audio Amplifier (hence the AAA), the primary development goal is to eliminate all colouration in the audio signal path. The outcome is a highly coherent and predictable DAC/headamp, offering an expansive soundstage and dynamic range. However, depending on your music library, it may come across as overly flat, bordering on sounding somewhat boring.
However, if you play something like On The Run by Pink Floyd from the album The Dark Side of The Moon, you’ll be immersed in a rich, enveloping sound that captures the sense of urgency and frustration one would feel when being led on a wild goose chase at an airport while trying to catch a flight. The harrowing anxiety is crystal clear.
I conducted tests on the FiiO R7’s digital inputs using my Marantz CD-5004 CD player, specifically utilising both the coaxial and optical outputs. With a selection of albums including the 2017 KLIAV Commemorative CD, Rattle That Lock by David Gilmour (Columbia 88875123262 PZ1), and Diana Krall: Live in Paris (Verve 065 109-2), the FiiO R7 undeniably provided an emotionally engaging listening experience.
During my usage of the unit, I encountered a bug that affected its performance. Specifically, when playing audio via Airplay from my iPhone XS, I noticed an intermittent click or pop occurring approximately every 10 seconds. I believe this to be a software bug, and fortunately, since the unit offers an over-the-air (OTA) update feature, there is potential for this issue to be addressed in a future update.
As a Preamp and Line Out
Routing its balanced line out to my Dynahi SuSy headphone amp and the single-ended line out to my Sansui AU-D707F stereo amp, I got to hear how the DAC performs. Its output was uncoloured and flat, while retaining the spacious soundstage and the air around the highs. Bass remained textured but less accentuated than I’m used to compared with the EarMen Angel. Think of it as the Chord Hugo without the elevated treble.
Line-out level was quite high but on par with my Marantz CD-5004 CD player. Keep this in mind in case you overdrive your equipment downstream. It’s better to use it as a pre-out anyway because I hear no degradation when the pre-out volume is reduced. Moreover, utilising the R7 as a pre-out provides the added benefit of being able to adjust the volume directly on the unit, eliminating the need to reach for your amplifier for volume control.
THE LAST WORD
While some may describe the FiiO R7 as having a “flat” sound signature like it’s a bad thing, I find myself still highly recommending it. The device’s ability to deliver a clean and neutral audio performance, coupled with its impressive technical specifications and versatile connectivity options, make it a compelling choice for audio enthusiasts.
Despite the potential perception of being clinical or sterile, the R7 manages to provide an emotionally engaging listening experience, showcasing the fine nuances and clarity across various genres and recordings. Considering its features, build quality, and overall performance, the FiiO R7 receives my recommendation for those seeking a high-quality, versatile audio companion.
Sources: Mac Mini M1, Marantz CD-5004, iPhone XS / Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser HD525, Final Audio Pandora Hope VI, JVC HA-S500 / DACs: Chord Hugo V1, EarMen Angel / Amplifier: Dynahi SuSy, Sansui AU-D707F / Speakers: Elac B6.2
Malaysian price: RM3,199 (white) / RM3,099 (black)
Review sample courtesy of Stars Picker Audio Library (+603-6156 1984) / Find your distributor.