FiiO BTR7

When it comes to portable audio, we can say FiiO is playing on it their home field. They are one of the companies that started affordable, high quality audio for IEMs and headphones. Is BTR7 a worthy choice at $199, or did FiiO became complacent?

Introduction to the FiiO BTR7 Review

BT DAC/AMPs are always a hot topic, especially during summer. Being more convenient than dongles, they offer a solid sound quality when you don’t need the best sound possible.

FiiO is one of the oldest players on the field. I remember considering their products when  I was starting my headphone journey. I still had hair back then, kids. They have been doing cool stuff since then, and today we have one of their latest products, the FiiO BTR7. It’s a premium, BT DAC/AMP, that has all the goodies like dual ESS DAC, THX amplifier and a neat chassis. It is on top of their BT range of amplifiers. Larger, more powerful than the BTR5 and the latest BTR15 this review’s subject promises to deliver the ultimate portable BT and USB performance into IEMs and headphones alike.

Before we dive further into the test, I want to emphasise the support that FiiO provides for its products. I’ve been using FiiO BTR7, M11 ESS, and M15S and when there were some issues, the company responded quickly with a fix. My experience with their products has been exemplary,  and I think it’s worth highlighting. We don’t only buy a product. Our money also goes to customer support and I can only say good things about FiiO’s.

Packaging

Reviewed FiiO BTR7 packaging

As usual, our friends from FiiO stick with their theme: black boxes with iridescent prints. Very gamer-like style, but I think they want to appeal to them, along with geeks and PC enthusiasts. Since my PC looks like a Christmas tree on the 24th of December, I’ll give them points for that. 

Packaging is as always very secure. A hard foam cutout holds the device. You’ll also find a manual, USB C-C and C-A cables and a light grey leatherette case. Let me tell you something. I’m a team case on my electronics. I’m team case so hard, that when I got my new phone I was using it with both hands like a child because I was so scared I’ll drop it. Longest 2 days of my life. Same thing with the Questyle M15. I ordered the case and was anxious for those couple of days until it arrived. I really, REALLY appreciate manufacturers including a solid, workable case with the product. 

That said, your mileage may vary, if you’re not a nut like me. Oh, yes, FiiO. The review, I’m writing. Right. The included case is of stellar quality. They do make fantastic cases, the same thing with the M11, M15S and M23 that Paweł is reviewing as we speak. Probably the top 3 in the industry. Together with the reviewed BTR7, FiiO kindly sent a case with a belt clip. At first, I thought: it was a total dad look with plain jeans and a polo shirt. But then it occurred to me: it has to be super comfy without creating a big bulge in your pants. I don’t make promises I can’t keep, you know?

Design, Build Quality and Functionality

 

If you read my reviews of other stuff from FiiO, you can skip ahead. The only thing that stops me from saying the build quality is perfect are the buttons that rattle a bit. Besides that, the fit is immaculate, and the style reminds me of M11 a lot. 

It’s like they miniaturized it. On the front, you have a screen and that’s it. On the right-hand side, you’ll find some buttons and a switch for control. There’s also a microphone, more about it later. So, not much to say here. Fantastic build quality and an aggressive, contemporary design. Mine is in a classic black finish, but there is also a white version, with blue buttons. Haven’t seen it in person, but it looks cool as hell.

Regarding functionality, we get a FiiO Control app to give us access to more functions of the BTR7. It does have a couple of Chinglish moments, like “Battery prorection” which totally doesn’t rhyme with a mystery erec… Edit: Michał has been rebuked and thrown into a cellar where he and his dirty mind belong. Control App allows us to utilize Qualcomm’s built-in DSP to provide tone control and parametric EQ. For all you fellow nerds, we also get a distortion compensation of the ESS DACs to play with.

There is a microphone which means the review’s subject can be used as a BT headset even when your IEMs don’t have their own. That’s quite ingenious if you ask me. You would still need to get it from your pocket, but still, better than pulling out your phone and trying to swap output devices and yada yada. You can put the tested FiiO BTR7 into a USB DAC mode, but be mindful, it stops the charging. Kinda a bummer for desktop usage. Finally, you can turn the USB Audio class into class 1, meaning it works with consoles and older stuff. Pretty neat for Nintendo Switch users.

Tech

Strap in, because there’s a lot to list in this paragraph. Let’s start from the outside, and then we’ll move inwards. The mentioned LCD screen is a small, IPS panel. I have to say it’s pretty bright, but it’s not anything crazy. Gets the job done.

The brain is the QCC5124 chipset from Qualcomm, a premium Bluetooth 5.0 (FiiO website cites BT 5.1, so maybe there was a revision of the chip, or firmware) audio SoC. It’s not the freshest, but it gets the job done nonetheless, rocking LDAC and aptX HD. The newest of the family, BTR15 is featuring a younger QCC5125 SoC, and BTR17 is scheduled for September of this year. So, the decision is yours: wait for the newer one, which probably will be a refinement (like BTR15 to BTR5), or try to get the BTR7 at a discount when the new unit comes. Or get it now if you don’t care about the “newest and bestest”.

USB audio side of things is handled by an XMOS microcontroller, the XUF208. It provides us with 32bit 384kHz and DSD256 compatibility, which is plenty.  With one flick of a switch, the tested BTR7 turns into a USB dongle. The DAC is based on two highly integrated ESS Sabre ES9219C, portable 32bit 384kHz converters with exemplary parameters. It’s hard to fit anything bigger or better into this size of a device.

But wait, there’s more! The amplifier is dual, balanced THX AAA-28. As you know by now, they use composite amplifier architecture and a lot of feedback to deliver extremely low distortion and a lot of power. Exactly 320mW@32Ohm and 40mW@300Ohm. Halve that for SE outputs.

So you already know to expect a 3,5mm and a 4,4mm outputs. That will happily drive any IEM  and most headphones. Noise is very low and wasn’t an issue even with my Andromeda ES. As per battery life, with IEMs as I mostly used it, I was charging it every other day. No worries about it dying during your commute to work. If it does require charging, you have two options: wired, or wireless charging. The latter is, as the greatest politician ever has said: a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. 

Sound of the reviewed FiiO BTR7

 
Equipment used:

DAC/AMPs: iFi GO Blu, Questyle M15

IEMs: Letshuoer Cadenza 4 and S12, Craft Ears Aurum, Campfire Audio Andromeda Emerald Sea

Headphones: Meze 109 Pro

Right out of the box, the reviewed FiiO BTR7 doesn’t pull any punches. It is a showy-sounding amp. V-shaped tuning, with a thumping bass and strong top end. It is exactly what you want if you like live music. Big, and bold, it immediately grips your attention. It’s a type of sound that doesn’t work as well as a background listening session. You’re either in or out. And you’re in, trust me.

During the review, I favoured the tested FiiO BTR7 with smoother, milder-sounding IEMs and headphones. The Letshuoer Cadenza 4 I tested recently is a great pairing for it. The Meze 109PRO, is not my favourite. I think it gives you an overall idea of what’s happening here. While the sound staging is for the most part okay, a standout part is depth, which is absolutely stellar for this price. One note: out of two filters included, the Hybrid Fast sounds much smoother and more pleasant, so I mainly used it for the review. Let’s take a deeper dive into FiiO BTR7’s sound.

Bass

As mentioned before, lows are something you cannot miss. Big, aggressive, and sometimes overdrawn. They dominate the character of the FiiO BTR7. In a nutshell, it’s a personification of “Hey, wanna hear something cool?”. On Soundgarden – Like a Stone drums and bass line provide a great, engaging foundation. You can tell they are elevated by the reviewed FiiO BTR7, strong and confident. It makes your foot go tap tap tap in no time at all. On the other hand, the textures seem to be of less importance than weight, compared to Questyle’s M15 bass feels to be played a bit on one note. It is a much more expensive device though. Fun, over class. But hey, it’s really fun.

Midrange

Midrange continues the bold and dynamic character of the bass. When I listened to Ghost – Mary on a Cross, I felt that the midrange while very direct, could use a bit more meat. Especially with Meze 109PRO lead vocalist’s voice sounded a bit thin. Cadenza 4 matched the FiiO BTR7 much better, having a much more balanced character. It does have a great amount of detail in the midrange, so don’t think you’ll miss anything. The resolution here is also excellent. If a warm and fuzzy midrange is crucial, then perhaps tested FiiO BTR7 is not for you. If you like energetic and forward presentations, you’ll feel right at home.

Treble

For the treble reference I have chosen SHAED – Trampoline, a lot is going on in the upper regions. Lots of cymbals in the middle of attention but also a lot is going in the sides of the soundstage. It creates layers of treble not only in positioning but also in loudness. FiiO BTR7 has a strong and upfront treble. The main cymbals in the song are snappy and metallic. With Meze 109PRO they balance on the border of being too much. Once again, with the Cadenza 4 they hit the spot head-on. Another example of being more expensive is not always better. The detail and control of the quieter parts is excellent. They are full of information and completely separated from the louder tones.

Sound staging

The soundstage created by the subject of this review is spherical, reaching outside the headphones/IEMs. While the width is typical for this price point, I was very impressed with depth, which is usually the Achilles’ heel of many, even more expensive sources. Would by Alice in Chains illustrates it perfectly, with layers of sound in every direction. The precision and separation are excellent. Dual ESS DACs are putting in the work!

Pairings

Letshuoer Cadenza 4



As m
entioned in Cadenza 4’s review, this is a match made in heaven. A smooth, and warm IEMs benefit greatly from excellent sound staging and resolution of BTR7. It gives it a nice kick and a spark in the top range. On the other hand, Cadenza adds fullness to the midrange, eliminating the biggest drawback of this amp. Driving the Cadenza is easy and BTR7 doesn’t break a sweat.

In the end, we get a nice, punchy bass, involving midrange and a snappy, sparkly treble. A very engaging, fun sound profile that will be appreciated by many. While Questyle M15 is a better source, with Cadenza 4 the difference wasn’t night and day, so I’d recommend going with FiiO.

Meze 109 Pro

Here is what not to do: pair a forward, direct-sounding source with a clean headphone that has an edge to its treble. While BTR7 drives the 109’s with ease (I’m impressed I’d say), the result is not satisfying. It can sound too much, and the lower treble can get too hot for my test. The bass is actually lovely. Maybe not the most textured, it reminds me of a bass from a speaker’s. Pleasant, round around the edges, and thick. The midrange gets tricky, while Pearl Jam sounds pretty nice, Ghost sounded thin. The amount of detail is good, and the dynamics shine, but the tone is off. Treble as mentioned, is too spicy, especially in the lower regions. Sound staging is very nice, but that’s to be expected.

I think that 99 Classic would sound terrific with the BTR7 though.

Comparisons

Questyle M15

Despite my whining about Questyle not including a case with the M15, I’ll choose it over BTR7 any day. Unless I really don’t want to mess with cables, because as a BT source the FiiO slaps. When both are being used as a dongle the M15 justifies its price with ease. It carries the qualities of BTR7: detail, dynamics and fun, but adds more balanced sound and even more textures and resolution. I can honestly end it with it’s similar, but better.

That’s because it also uses ESS Sabre DAC as its brain. Even though there is only one, the sound staging of the M15 is superior in size and how open it feels. Precision is actually on par, which is a great achievement of FiiO’s dongle. The treble of the M15 is much more natural and smooth while retaining the information and attack of BTR7. In direct comparison, the BTR7’s midrange feels grainy and much thinner. Here is the biggest disparity between the two Chinese dongles. The bass might be down to taste. Would you prefer a bigger and more aggressive BTR7 or a more refined and controlled M15? If my priority is sound quality, the M15 is an obvious choice. If I want comfort, it’s BTR7 time.

iFi Audio Go Blu

GO Blue has been iFi’s champion for quite some time. Much smaller than the reviewed FiiO BTR7, on paper, they look pretty similar: BT 5.1, built-in mic, both 3,5 and 4,4mm outputs. The devil is in the details and the features. The GO Blu uses more plastic and doesn’t feel as premium as the FiiO’s amp. The dongle functionality on iFi is limited to 24bit/96kHz. iFi uses a single Cirrus Logic chip with a dedicated amplifier section, unlike BTR7’s dual ESS with a dedicated THX triple A amp.

And I think that’s GO Blu’s downfall. It’s the biggest con is noise. It’s pretty loud with many IEMs that I own. I tried Craft Ears Aurum and it was too much. Not even mentioning Andromeda Emerald Sea… Performance with headphones was decent, but nowhere near the BTR7. It makes me think, what is the purpose of GO Blu if it’s too noisy for IEMs and too weak to really bring life to headphones.

Sound-wise, iFi’s amp is much warmer and calmer. It offers a smoother, more forgiving experience. The bass of the GO Blu is softer and slower. It’s also not as big. The midrange of GO Blu is much more natural, closer to a realistic timbre. I have to give credit where it’s due. The treble of GO Blu is smoother and more pleasant while delivering less detail. Tested FiiO BTR7 wins sound staging depth, while GO Blu wins in width. Precision is comparable between the two. I wish that iFi would make a v2 of GO Blu, with lower nice, as it would really put some pressure on the competition, but as it stands now, I kinda miss the point of this product.

FiiO BTR7 Review – summary

 
The BTR7 is a great deal. A very competent BT DAC/AMP that will handle anything from a sensitive IEM to a reasonable dynamic headphone. Want to focus on audio quality? No worries it doubles as a capable USB dongle.

A dedicated smartphone app allows for EQ and future updates, which FiiO happily provides. The build quality is top-notch, as is the included leatherette case. Sound quality is solid: the tested BTR7 delivers fun, v-shaped tuning that will leave you out of breath. Thumping bass, direct midrange, and bold treble are the name of the game.

An excellent pairing with neutral/warm IEMs and headphones. FiiO packed a lot of tech into this small unit and it paid off. While there is the BTR17, I’m expecting a refinement, not a revolution, so if you want a top-notch BT DAC/AMP at a great price I’d wait for September. If you need something now, grab it today and don’t worry about the new and upcoming. The value here is excellent anyway.

Big thanks to FiiO for providing us with the BTR7 for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.