The DAP category has been declared dead and buried more than once over the past few years as smartphones have become the primary way human beings consume music but I’m going to push back on that obituary. Products like the FiiO M11 Plus LTD Digital Audio Player certainly have a niche audience but they also deliver a far superior experience.
When Bluetooth technology offers a true lossless experience, I think we’re going to see some incredible products in the headphone category but we’re not there yet in 2022. Smartphones are going to be an essential hi-fi component when we hit that point.
Back to the FiiO M11 Plus LTD DAP.
I recently reviewed the FiiO M17 and found it to be a great desktop device and something that is transportable but not the model I’d want to use on my daily commute.
It is a brick and not something that is going to fit comfortably in a pocket unless one is wearing a parka. In fairness to the M17, it was designed to be something you can take with you but was never really marketed as a flagship “portable” DAP.
The M11 Plus LTD is really for those who want one of the best portable sonic players to use with their IEMs or high-end headphones while commuting or traveling.
The M11 has gone through a number of product cycles and upgraded models; many will be quick to point out there was an M15 between the M11 and M17, but the M15 has now been discontinued with the FiiO M11 Plus LTD taking its place in the lineup.
In many respects, the M11 Plus LTD has more in common with the M15 than with its namesake, because the original M11 was designed for a different customer; it was less expensive, lighter, and had far fewer features than the model that has replaced it.
In between the original M11 and the M11 Plus LTD, FiiO had a M11 Pro model that moved the DAC chip up from 4493 to a pair of 4497s and had improved output power. The M11 Pro was the same size and weight of the older M11 and didn’t offer anything more than that.
The universe then began to play havoc with FiiO; and every other company making digital components. There was a fire at AKM and the current chip shortage that has created supply chain headaches for almost industry that uses them; automotive, consumer electronics, and appliances have been hit harder than most.
FiiO was forced to follow other manufacturers by switching the M11 Plus to the ESS 9068 chip instead of the 4497EQ as the supply of the later dried up overnight.
The 9068 is no slouch and some will prefer the sound of it; it is not a downgrade in terms of its capabilities but it forced FiiO to go back to the drawing board and rethink what they could offer consumers.
Did they succeed? Let’s take a listen.
The FiiO M11 Plus LTD uses a pair of AKM 4497EQ DACs and a pair of THX AAA-78 amplifiers as its central core; the main processor remains the SnapDragon 660, combined with the Qualcomm Bluetooth 5.0 chipset, a 5.5 inch display, and a 6000mAh battery pack.
The features pretty much mirror the M11 Plus although the weight of the LTD model is slightly greater at 305 grams vs 290 grams for the M11 Plus. The M11 Plus LTD also offers a more robust stainless case option though which brings total weight to just over 400 grams.
While the steel case may be good for durability, the added weight and cost may be a trade off some prefer not to make. The model sent for review was the aluminum model and I found no reason to doubt the durability of it for everyday use.
The standard operating system is Android 10 with both a full Android environment and a dedicated music mode available. For my listening tests, I used the dedicated music mode with files delivered from a 1TB MicroSD card and then the full Android environment for use with the TIDAL and Qobuz apps.
After spending 2 weeks with the M11 Plus LTD as my primary music listening source, I came away with a healthy respect for it. The player was able to keep up with my work day without needing a recharge and the only interruptions were when the system prompted for updates to the operating software.
Adding the TIDAL and Qobuz apps was straight forward and OTA updates worked as they should; interruptions were usually a few minutes for a download and reboot and I was back to listening fairly quickly in each instance.
With support for PCM to 384kHz, DSD to 256, and MQA, the M11 Plus LTD has pretty much all of the bases covered and with the ability to use Roon files, which can be delivered from your library to the M11 Plus if not stored natively.
Some will find the 64 GB built-in storage and streaming quite adequate while others may add up to a 1TB MicroSD card for greater storage capacity.
One thing I wasn’t thrilled with is the supplied case; the buttons feel far less tactile, and the LED indicator lamp on the power button is completely obscured by the case which is a very strange design decision.
I found myself taking it out of the case to use it and storing it in the case to protect it when not being used; I fail to see how that achieves the desired intention of a protective case.
It has become fairly standard that cases obstruct access to the SD-card slot but at least changing cards is a fairly rare occurrence. By comparison, blocking the LED that indicates bit rate and file type is a more significant issue.
The FiiO playback software is rather easy to use and does simplify finding your music collection without too much difficulty. The GUI is not as polished as the Astell & Kern app, but it does do what is required and nothing more. It does provide access to the internal 10 band EQ, and allows you to save custom settings
The FiiO M11 Plus LTD is possibly one of the most neutral sounding DAPs I have been able to try in 2022; there is a mild lower treble lift but the overall sonic signature is quite balanced throughout.
If you are looking for a DAP that will make poor recordings sound like pristine audiophile releases — this DAP will not get you there.
The low end is quite strong but also very well controlled and detailed; bass notes have definition, speed, and texture. There is almost no bleed from the upper bass into the midrange and that keeps the overall tonal balance quite neutral.
The midrange is not pushed forward at all; I found that most vocals and instrumentation had excellent resolution, detail, and sufficient weight.
The treble is slightly forward but not in a manner that makes bright recordings sound hard or etched; I was actually surprised by the overall airiness of the treble and if you have headphones or IEMs that can showcase the top end — this might be the DAP for you.
DAPs have become increasingly expensive and occupy the high end of the market because they can’t compete with Dongle DACs at the bottom and they have to offer a lot more than a smartphone to justify their price of admission. In order to be truly competitive in 2022, a high-end DAP has to offer a superior sonic experience, strong user interface, excellent battery life, wireless or bluetooth capabilities, sufficient storage, and access to streaming platforms like TIDAL or Qobuz to remain relevant.
The FiiO M11 Plus LTD checks a lot of the right boxes for those of us that prefer to use a separate device and conserve our phone’s battery for phone calls, work, watching television, and browsing.
What is interesting about the Fiio M11 Plus LTD is that while it occupies the flagship position in the lineup, it doesn’t share the pricing that you would expect for something this good overall.
At time of publication, the aluminum cased version of the M11 Plus LTD is selling for $699 USD. That gives the M11 Plus LTD a $100 price advantage over the similarly featured Shanling M6 Pro, a level playing field with the Hiby’s M6 Pro, and a $50 advantage over A&K’s SR-25 MkII.
To say it is a crowded market is an understatement, and none of the aforementioned DAPs are poor choices for sound quality or the types of features that you would expect at this level. They all differ when it comes to battery life and how well they drive difficult IEMs or full-sized headphones, but it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.
The FiiO M11 Plus LTD adds another very strong option to the list and is very competitive if your budget ceiling is $800 for a high-end DAP.
Where to buy: $799 at Amazon (AKM version)
Note: The FiiO M11 Plus (ESS version) is more commonly available for $699 at Amazon and Audio46.