FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
Hands-on with the FiiO Q7 Portable DAC/Amplifier Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Short of spelling it out, FiiO, the Guangzhou Electronics that specializes in audiophile devices has an ambition: An ambition to create products that can do multiple things well, instead of specializing in only one task. Though 'multi-purpose' is considered a dirty word for many in the audio industry, for others, it's a relief for both the work space as well as the bank account.

The new flagship portable DAC/Amp: the Q7 is the next challenger from FiiO that aims to be both powerful enough to be a desktop and compact enough to be used on-the-go. Compared to its Q series predecessors, it has the ability to produce a maximum output of 3000mW, almost 6 times the wattage Q5s TC of the previous flagship. To put this into perspective, FiiO's own flagship desktop DAC/Amp the K9 Pro ESS tops out at 2100mW. On paper, the FiiO Q7 is producing numbers that are truly game changing especially for a portable device, let's dive in to find out how it plays out in real life.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The Q7 and M17 are so similar, one might mistaken one for the other from the side Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Expansion of FiiO's flagship Digital Player

Having reviewed FiiO's Flagship DAP - the M17, one look at the exterior of the Q7 most would find the obvious resemblance between the two devices apparent. In fact they even feel almost identical in the hand, because the dimensions and weight are virtually identical. They also have the same design language: from the oversized chamfered corners, hexagonal buttons, large volume knob and even the RGB chevron side indicator lights - the two have lots in common outwardly.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The 1.30-inch TFT screen unique to the Q7 Jeff Li/IBTimes US

However, they also have significant differences that set them apart from one another. Since one is a Digital Audio Player and the other is a DAC/Amp, gone is the 5.99-inch touch screen, replaced with a 1.30-inch TFT screen displaying a simple text menu. On the back of the device, gone is the glass back of the M17, instead you get is a nod to the FiiO Q5 design - a faux leather back. The way to navigate the menu is also very different, as the Q7 now uses the oversized volume knob as the navigation wheel.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The new navigation wheel that doubles as the volume knob Jeff Li/IBTimes US

New Navigation Wheel

The volume knob on the FiiO Q7 is a central feature of the device, instead of the stealthy black wheel of the M17, it's now a loud metal knurled wheel with machined concentric circles on its face. The adoption of M17's RGB status ring light underneath the wheel is a welcomed feature, adding to the visual impact of the Q7.

FiiO however opted for a ratchet wheel instead of an inertia smooth turning wheel used on the M17 - and for good reason: the ratchet gives it the control that is needed for menu navigation. Furthermore, the navigation wheel has a new input method: it now registers a push. This is an essential function as a navigation wheel: introducing a push input to select, and a longer hold for a 'back' button.

The navigation wheel is intuitive enough that I was able to use it smoothly after 20-30 minutes. Afterall as a DAC/Amp, the menu and function is much more simple and finite. I think most audiophiles will be appreciative of the gentle learning curve to navigate the Q7.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
Low, Medium, High, Super High and Ultra High gain setting menu Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Power to Drive High Impedance Headphones

Other than the standard Low, Medium and High gain settings, the Q7 also offers Super High gain. What's more, just like the M17 that activates a hidden Enhanced Headphone mode when the DC adaptor is plugged in, the Q7 also enables a Ultra High gain mode. According to FiiO's measurement, via the balanced 2.5 or 4.4 mm port, with a 32 ohm headphone, the Q7 is able to produce 3,000 mW of power. This is equivalent to the top output from the M17, and interestingly, as mentioned earlier, this is significantly more powerful than FiiO's own flagship desktop amplifier.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The Q7 is capable of immense power output from its array of sockets Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Wielding this kind of power, it means the portable FiiO Q7 DAC/Amp is very able when it comes to driving full-sized headphones with high impedance. In fact, using a Oneodio monitor 80 headphone which has a 250 Ohm impedance, the output was already at listening level at 50% volume with the Super High gain setting.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The faux leather back of the Q7 Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Black Background for IEMs

It's one thing to have an unusually powerful output coming from a portable device, on the other hand the FiiO Q7 is still built around a digital audio player (DAP) which usually does better in handling more delicate earphones like IEMs. This includes having a very black background, and the Q7 does this very well. Testing it on its 3.5mm output, when paired with the JH Audio powered L'Acoustic Contour there is absolutely no audible hiss.

Another interesting built-in function is that the music slowly fades in whenever the gain is changed, which gives you time to lower the volume if you have forgotten to do it. With potentially 3,000 mW of power hitting your IEMs, this function rescued my ears from extreme loud music more than a handful of times.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The array of inputs of the Q7 Jeff Li/IBTimes US

FiiO has undoubtedly introduced enough functionalities to the Q7 to achieve the intended multifunctionality - to be able to drive both headphones and IEMs. However how does it fare with DAPs that are designed to excel in IEM pairings? Comparing the Q7 with FiiO's own M11 Plus ESS, I'd say the M11 Plus still offered a more nuanced and detailed presentation. While the difference is not blatant, it's noticeable.

Conclusively, I would pin the strength of the Q7 to its ability to drive large headphones with jaw dropping power, despite its unparalleled portability compared to other desktop DAC/Amps of similar wattage.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The Q7 continues the FiiO culture of including rich accessories Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Accessories Galore

FiiO in my experience never disappoints when it comes to accessories, and the same goes with the Q7.

Being a portable device, the FiiO Q7 comes with its own faux leather case that provides protection and keeps the unit in mint condition. The FiiO-made leather case went through a redesign and added Velcro to the closing flap. Though this adds a little bump on the rear of the case, you get in return a much more secure wrap around for the unit.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
The included custom made Q7 case with a Velcro flap Jeff Li/IBTimes US

On the other hand being a desktop device, directly taken from FiiO M17's playbook, a cooling stand is included with the Q7. The stand has a built-in USB-powered cooling fan that keeps the running temperature down. To be honest, even without it, I've run the Q7 at Ultra High gain mode plugged into DC power, with the case on, and it only got slightly warmer. So don't expect the Q7 to run like an overclocked CPU, it doesn't get that warm. For me the stand is more for aesthetics purposes, to keep the desktop less cluttered and the cables well tucked away.

When it comes to the included cables, there are also two longer USB-C cables for desktop mode, and shorter USB-C and Lightning cables for mobile devices: again a decision made around the duo-purpose nature of the Q7. Included is also the power adapter and adhesive pads to put over the controls, which improves the tactile button use when the unit is in the protective case.

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful
When the Q7 is used on the desk, the included cooling stand keeps the presentation professional Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Final Verdict

FiiO Q7 Portable Amplifier Hands-on Review: Powerful

The FiiO Q7 DAC/Amp is quite a unique device of its own, combining power and portability. It succeeded in its mission to be an affordable device that fulfills multi-purpose: being able to drive both high impedance headphones as well as sensitive IEMs as well as being portable enough that carrying it around is possible. Furthermore, the Q7 has enough input and output ports, and Bluetooth connectivity to be a central hub for all your audio needs.

For its versatility, impressive power and aesthetics that would make others envy, we're awarding the FiiO Q7 the IBTimes Recommended badge.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move, but since the pandemic is on a mission to explore gadgets to improve his 'home work'. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Home Productivity.