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FiiO R7 Integrated DAC/Amp/Streamer: a capable all-in-one?

Hi everyone, and welcome back The Neighborhood! Today we’re looking at the FiiO R7 thanks in part to MRS, or Mark, over at Super Reviews. I really thank him for supporting this channel and sending this unit in for review! Let’s get inToit!

So, I was instantly attracted to the FiiO R7 when it first came out. You see, I’m a sucker for DACs which implement ethernet, as I stream with Roon, and this offers me a ton of versatility in my home. I just find that ethernet, generally, also just transmits a less corruptible audio signal, so I’m always in favor of using it where and when I can. Unfortunately, there aren’t many DACs under $1000 that feature it. So, when this FiiO released with a Roon Ready touch screen interface at a price of $699, I was excited. It also sports a THX AAA 788 amplifier with five gain stages, 3.6W of output power, and a variety of balanced and unbalanced outputs for headgear and other devices. It can be used as a fixed line out, a preout, a headphone out, or both a preout and headphone out at the same time; selectable via the lower knob on the front of the unit. But be advised, plugging in a headphone in preout/headphone out mode does not disable the preout functions from the back of the unit. The top knob adjusts the volume from left to right, and enters and output selection screen when held down. It also wakes the device up from slumber with a single press, and returns to the home screen with additional presses.

To use this device with Roon, one has to enter a separate application from the “Input/Mode selection” screen. I would have liked to be able to enter Roon and begin playback automatically from devices such as my computer or phone, as I can do this with my Gold Note DS-10, but on the R7 the Roon Ready application has to be running for the device to be recognized. It was also somewhat clunky to switch to a different output mode from the Roon Ready application, as other output modes had a built-in icon that you could access via the touchscreen, but from the Roon Ready application, the only way to access the selection screen was via a long press and hold of the top knob. Overall, I just found the software to be a tad bit confusing, un-user-friendly, and somewhat clunky in its general execution. For example, there was an observable lag towards the beginning of some tracks at times, especially when the device would switch codecs from one to another. Perhaps the Snapdragon 660 can be optimized with further firmware updates by FiiO, but as things stand at the time of this review, the interface needs some work in my opinion. And I mean, FiiO is doing this. There were at least two firmware updates while I had the device in for testing for this review.

Speaking of codecs, the R7 makes use of the ES9068AS; which is cable up to 32bit, 384kHz PCM, DSD2256, and decodes and renders MQA. There’s even an all to DSD mode for those that prefer send out a cedec that is converted to all DSD all the time.

Regarding power-handling. I found that the due to its five stages of gain, I had no problem running sensitive IEMs and most high impedance cans. But, the internal, dual THX AAA 7788+ amplifiers were not powerful enough to drive my 600 Ohm DT880 Special Edition, even balanced, but were strong enough to drive the 470 Ohm Japanese r70x, as well as, a number of other 300 Ohm headphones; such as the Sennheiser 6xx and 8xx. In testing sensitive IEMs like the Orchestra light and the KZ ZSX, the R7 produced a black background on low gain, but I could still observe some noise floor if the gain was not on the lowest setting.

But diving deeper into the sound, its here where I have the biggest my biggest gripes with the R7. Does it sound bad? No, no it doesn’t… I mean it sounds pretty good, but does it sound $700 dollars good? No, not really… Generally speaking, it lacks emotion at times, and there is some particular, peculiar, mild harshness, grit, and grain to the sound, which is most glaring in the upper mids. Both vocals and guitars were noteworthy offenders.

This was particularly evident and troublesome on more revealing gear. Using the R7 as the DAC, feeding into an integrated Circle Labs A200 amplifier, driving a set of Wolf Von Lagna Sons- this is a very revealing system, and it was fairly obvious that the FiiO R7 was the weak point in the chain.

It may not be a fair comparison, as it is currently at least twice the price of the R7, even when on sale, but my Gold Note DS-10 smashes the sonic performance of the FiiO. And, it’s not even close! Now the Gold Note screen is not a touch screen, and it cannot display album art like the FiiO can, but it functions better with Roon, and sounds much better than the FiiO otherwise.

With the Wolf Von Lagna Son field coil dipole speakers putting on a show, as they tend to do, there was no harshness coming from the DAC of the Gold Note, while midrange and treble harshness were clearly evident coming from the R7. Honestly, I was genuinely let down by the performance of the R7 to a certain extent. I had hoped that it might at least keep up with sonic performance of my old SU-8, which is a much cheaper $200 DAC from SMSL, but although the R7’s performance was closer to that DAC, if I had to pick between the two, I would still likely take the SU-8 based on sonic performance alone.

Using the R7 at the review desk with my Cessaro Mini Wagners; which is another revealing speaker powered by my Sprout 100, I had to put the Darkvoice 336 in the chain as a preamp to add some tube goodness and tamp down the harsh character of the R7’s upper mid-range. And don’t get me wrong, the harshness here with the R7 might pass many people’s listening tests with an acceptable rating, but in the end, it’s a deal breaker for me, and its simply just not good enough to remain in my system for the long-term.

I also tested a number of high-end headphones I own or had into the channel for review, including the Rosson Audio RAD-0, the Meze Empyrean, and the Arya Stealth. The mellow, warm character and easy to drive nature of the RAD-0 made it a patricianly good match for the R7, as it also curbed some negative aspects of the sound profile; which we’ve already discussed. The Arya Stealth, being a bit more transparent was not generally as pleasant on the R7 as it is on other devices. It really displayed the problems that I have with this device and it fatigued me to listen to it for prolonged periods of time. I will note; however, that it sounded significantly better sounding with the R7 employed purely as a DAC; driving the Arya Stealth with the 789. The Meze Empyrean was also able to mask some of the blemishes in the sound quality, here or there, but I’ve also heard it sound much better. Of particular note, the bass here was a bit boomy and bloomed on occasion- going overboard on particular tracks.

Now FiiO does make an external power supply that works in conjunction with the R7, but despite trying to obtain one from both Apos Audio and FiiO themselves, I was unable get one in for this review in the end. Apos could not source them, and FiiO wouldn’t send one into the channel for a reasonable price. My hope is that the power supply could both clean up the sound of the R7 and improve its ability to drive higher impedance cans, but without the power supply here for comparison I could not accurately say either way.

Positively, the tonality of the THX amps were some of the most neutral that I have come across. Yet while it’s a tad bit warmer and fuller compared to the 789, it’s also a bit less exacting, less separative, not as spacious sounding, and comes across with less articulation within the presented soundscape.

But I guess for an all-in-one unit, it comes close to matching the performance of separates. And on less revealing, lower-tiered gear, the R7 kept up much better. Nevertheless, I have placed it in my main head-fi system, and lived with it as my main DAC for a few weeks for the sake of this review. But, when this review is over with, I won’t say that I will be sad to see it go. Still, with FiiO’s power supply; which I wasn’t able to test, and some additional firmware updates, I might be convinced to change my mind in the future, as its performance was potentially close to being good enough to stay. Its just not quite there as it stands. Maybe the R7 MK2 will be better?

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*Thanks to MRS with Super* Review for sending in the FiiO R7 to the Channel for review:

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