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FiiO BTR7 portable DAC/amplifier review

14.12.2023 11:09

The discussion of today's review must begin with its predecessor — the FiiO BTR5 portable DAC and headphone amplifier, released in 2020. The device has become popular among users, which prompted the manufacturer to release an updated version called FiiO BTR5 2021, with updated characteristics. Instead of releasing the FiiO BTR6, the BTR7 model was recently introduced, which perhaps highlights the significant differences between the generations of “DAC amps”.

A noticeable change was the increase in case size. Despite the loss of compactness of the previous model, the new version has a 1.3-inch diagonal IPS color display. However, this is far from the only update. One of the main changes was a fully balanced design with two THX AAA-28 amplifiers. The output power of the balanced output has increased significantly compared to previous devices: 88% for balanced and 30% for unbalanced output.

The manufacturer especially highlights the three-level architecture of the audio path, including DACs, low-pass filters and THX amplifiers, as well as a power system using 13 LDO stabilizers. The new product has received significant improvements. In addition, the solutions that have proven themselves well in BTR5 2021 are retained: a pair of ESS ES9219C DACs are used, the XMOX XFU208 is responsible for working via USB and transmitting high-res.

The 3.5mm minijack remains in place, and a 4.4mm Pentaconn is used for the balanced output. In addition to a pair of cables, the package includes a stylish leather case. Overall, the new FiiO BTR7 looks promising, although the starting price may be noticeably higher than previous models. Given the high expectations for the revamp of the beloved line, it will be interesting to see how well it lives up to expectations.

Specifications

Display1.3 inches (IPS)
DAC2 × ES9219C
USB chipXMOS XU208
Amplifiers2 × THX AAA28
Bluetooth chipQCC5124
Bluetooth version5.0
Supported CodecsAAC, aptX, aptX adaptive, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, LDAC, SBC
Digital inputUSB Type C
Supported Audio FormatsPCM (up to 384 kHz / 32 bit)
DSD (up to 384 kHz / 32 bit)
Built-in microphoneThere is
Controlmechanical buttons
Battery capacity880 mAh
Dimensions40×15×84 mm
Weight68 g
average cost25 thousand rubles at the time of testing
Retail offers
3.5mm TRRS jack (unbalanced)
Frequency range20 — 50000 Hz
Impedance1.2 ohm
Signal to noise ratio118 dB
SOI + noise0.00055%
Channel Separation75 dB
Maximum output power165 mW into 16 Ohms
160 mW into 32 Ohms
18 mW into 300 Ohms
4.4mm TRRRS jack (balanced)
Frequency range20 — 50000 Hz
Impedance2.8 ohm
Signal to noise ratio115 dB
SOI + noise0.00048%
Channel Separation107 dB
Maximum output power235 mW into 16 Ohms
320 mW into 32 Ohms
40 mW into 300 Ohms

Packaging and equipment

The FiiO BTR7 comes in a simple but striking black box with a side-hinged lid held closed by a magnet. Inside, all the components are placed in their own boxes; the device itself is held in place using a support made of foam material.

The FiiO BTR7 comes in a simple but striking black box with a side-hinged lid held closed by a magnet. Inside, all the components are placed in their own boxes; the device itself is held in place using a support made of foam material.

The kit includes the DAC/amplifier itself, USB-A-USB-C and USB-C-USB-C cables, a leather case, brief instructions and a warranty card.

The kit includes the DAC/amplifier itself, USB-A-USB-C and USB-C-USB-C cables, a leather case, brief instructions and a warranty card.

The cables are short, which is good in this case — it’s convenient to connect to various devices for use on the go.

The cables are short, which is good in this case — it’s convenient to connect to various devices for use on the go.

The manufacturer's description says that the texture of the leather case looks different depending on the lighting, and this is true. But we, like many other users, would prefer this “superpower” to the ability to attach it to clothing using a clip. The manufacturer also provided such a case, but it will have to be purchased separately. At the same time, the device is placed on top of it — just like in the complete one, and therefore constantly strives to fall out when worn — we will really miss the simple and reliable clip of the BTR5.

The manufacturer's description says that the texture of the leather case looks different depending on the lighting, and this is true. But we, like many other users, would prefer this “superpower” to the ability to attach it to clothing using a clip. The manufacturer also provided such a case, but it will have to be purchased separately. At the same time, the device is placed on top of it — just like in the complete one, and therefore constantly strives to fall out when worn — we will really miss the simple and reliable clip of the BTR5.

Otherwise, the complete case copes well with the tasks assigned to it — all the cutouts are in place, the buttons are pressed without any extra effort.

Otherwise, the complete case copes well with the tasks assigned to it — all the cutouts are in place, the buttons are pressed without any extra effort.

Design and construction

The dimensions of FiiO BTR7 are impressive: 40x15x84 mm. Thanks to its all-metal anodized body and large screen, the device looks more like a compact player than a standard DAC amplifier. On the left side there are control buttons and a microphone, and on the top of the device there are two connection connectors.

The front and back panels of FiiO BTR7 are covered with durable glass with a protective oleophobic layer. Despite the fact that the device was used extensively for several weeks before preparing the review, there is still not a single scratch on the surface. This is not only due to the use of the case most of the time — the glass demonstrates a high degree of durability. Particularly worth noting is the impressive 1.3-inch IPS color display, which not only looks stylish, but also provides useful information: from information about the codec and format of the played files to the device's charge level.

The integral structure of BTR7 deserves special attention, although we have already mentioned it earlier. But let's take a closer look at the key points. The main ace up the developers' sleeve is the device's three-level architecture, which includes a DAC, low-pass filters and amplifiers. It's impressive how FiiO's engineers managed to fit two THX AAA-28 amplifiers into a compact package for a fully balanced audio circuit. The DACs are a pair of ESS ES9219C, and the USB connection is provided by the XMOX XU208, which supports PCM up to 384 kHz, DSP at 256, as well as MQA playback.

The analog and digital sections are separated, and as many as 13 stabilizers are used to regulate the voltage — all to minimize the level of signal distortion.

The Qualcomm QCC5124 chip is responsible for the wireless connection — it is far from the latest, but still relevant and supports a full list of popular codecs, including LDAC and aptX HD. The Bluetooth antenna, made in the form of a metal frame inside the case, deserves special mention. Judging by the marketing materials, FiiO even received a separate patent for it No.: ZL2021206393368, although it was not possible to find it in open patent databases when preparing the review.

Connection

To connect headphones, there are two connectors at the top end of the device: a balanced Pentaconn 4.4 mm, plus an unbalanced 3.5 mm minijack. At the other end there is a USB Type C port for wired connection and charging.

Wireless connection is carried out in a standard way: after turning on Bluetooth, FiiO BTR7 searches for “familiar” sound sources for a while, then activates the pairing mode. All that remains is to find it in the corresponding gadget menu and connect it. We traditionally obtained a list of codecs and their modes using the Bluetooth Tweaker utility.

All listed functions are supported: AAC, aptX, aptX adaptive, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, LDAC, SBC. The Bitpool level for SBC is set to 53, which is even higher than the recommended value for the High Quality profile. AAC has a maximum data rate of up to 320 Kbps, providing the full potential of both base codecs. It is possible to connect the FiiO BTR7 to two devices at the same time, however, automatic switching between sources requires some adjustment through the Devices List menu.

When using a cable to connect to an Android smartphone, FiiO BTR7 works correctly with players that support Bit-perfect mode, such as USB Audio Player. The device plays all formats without any problems, including various high-quality audio files. The Tidal app, although it has support for external DACs, may still be unstable, which is most likely due not to the device itself, but to the features of the Tidal app.

After connecting to a PC running Windows 11, the DAC/amplifier is immediately detected by the system, the maximum available resolution level is 32 bits and 384 kHz, everything is as stated.

Management and software

There are four control buttons on the left side panel. They are pressed with a pleasant force and a noticeable, but rather quiet click. Let us briefly list the functions of the keys:

  • Power button (also responsible for entering the menu and turning on the screen)
    Confirm button
  • Volume control — “rocker”, also responsible for menu navigation
  • Charging Switch — Allows you to turn charging on or off when connected to a USB port in one motion, without having to access a menu

The charging mode switch was sorely lacking in the BTR5; you had to constantly access the menu when using the device in wired DAC mode, which should not consume the smartphone's charge. Now it is there, and organized in the most convenient way.

The 1.3-inch display is the central element of displaying all the necessary information, including charge level, volume, codec used and the format of the file or stream being played. However, despite the large size, the fonts in the menu look a little small and noticeably pixelated. The question arises about the need for such a large screen, since its information content is not much superior to the small monochrome screen that we saw in the BTR5. However, the updated case size has improved the appearance, which may be justified.

At the time of writing the review, the latest firmware of the device offered a menu in two languages: Chinese and English, which ensured comfortable operation. Let's analyze the main menu items:

  1. Gain: Two options — High (high) and Low (low).
  2. Filters: Their effect on the sound is quite delicate, but it is possible to experiment.
  3. EQ (Equalizer): Several preset settings and the ability to create your own.
  4. Car mode: Automatically turns on the device when power is supplied to the USB port.
  5. Device List: Switch between connected devices.
  6. U-Audio (USB 2.0 or USB 1.0): Switch USB version for device compatibility.
  7. Dimmer: Control the brightness of the screen backlight.
  8. Language: Russian or Chinese.
  9. Screen timeout: Adjust the time until the backlight turns off.
  10. Input priority: Select Bluetooth or UAC.
  11. Factory reset.
  12. Version (Software version).
  13. Technical content: Shows information similar to serial code on the screen.

The device can be controlled through its menu, but the FiiO Control application provides more convenient options. The app provides various settings, including charge level, battery protection, idle time selection, activating and deactivating codecs, and customizing buttons to control functions.

The application has a built-in powerful equalizer. Several presets, ten bands, the ability to adjust frequency and quality factor — there is everything you need to fully adjust the sound to your taste and the headphones you are using.

It is also possible to select the maximum volume level, increase the power, view the instructions in English, and also activate the distortion compensation function, which we will talk about below.

Exploitation

Despite its compact size, the FiiO BTR7 packs enough power to satisfy most headphones in an audiophile's collection. Particularly impressive results are achieved when connecting headphones to the balanced output. We started with the FiiO FH11 hybrid headphones, and here the device demonstrated consistently high sound quality. We also tested several hybrid in-ear headphones from Chinese manufacturers, and they also had no problems operating the device. After that, I connected the Soundmagic E80 high-impedance 64 Ohm headphones, which turned out to be impressive: despite its age and relatively low cost, this model continues to amaze with its sound quality.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x full-size 38-ohm headphones naturally revealed their full potential when used with the device. The same can be said for the slightly more demanding Sennheiser HD 560S 120 Ohm headphones. We later tested the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro with an impedance of 250 ohms — the FiiO BTR7 handled them easily, even without activating the high power mode. In this case, the volume margin was relatively small, but the device successfully “boosted” the headphones.

FiiO BTR7 is equipped with a built-in microphone, but it turned out to be inconvenient to use. Usually the DAC/amplifier is either on your belt or in your pocket, so to access the microphone you need to remove it and bring it to your mouth. This is quite inconvenient in everyday use. Many people prefer to simply remove one earbud, take the phone out of their pocket and use its built-in microphone — it's faster and allows you to see who's calling. Although the BTR7's built-in microphone is quite suitable for communication, its use is not always convenient. It would be much preferable to be able to use the microphone built into the headphone cable, but there is no such option.

Autonomy

The built-in battery capacity of the BTR7 is 880 mAh, which is 330 mAh more than the BTR5. However, despite the increase in capacity, the device still shows comparable battery life. This is due to increased power consumption of new components, including the screen.

It is difficult to talk about specific battery life, since it depends on several factors: connection type, playback volume, type of headphones and other factors. However, in order to provide some indicative data, we will conduct testing. To do this, we will select headphones with an impedance of 38 Ohms and resort to the typical technique.

The standard sound pressure level for safe listening to music is considered to be 75 dB, but many prefer levels from 90 to 100 dB. We will play white noise through headphones, maintaining an SPL level of around 95 dB, and start recording the signal from the measurement stand immediately after playback begins.

When connected wirelessly using the LDAC or aptX Adaptive codec, the FiiO BTR7 is capable of operating for about 8-9 hours. When switching to AAC, battery life decreases slightly — to about 7 hours. If the device is connected by wire, then you can charge the BTR7 in parallel, but without recharging, one battery charge lasts for about the same 7 hours. Charging the device via the FiiO BTR7 cable takes about one and a half hours. The device also supports wireless charging, where the charging speed depends on its parameters, but you can estimate about 2 hours.

Measurements and sound

The sound of the FiiO BTR7 is balanced and neutral, without unnecessary coloration or distortion. Without using an equalizer during listening, the specific sound in all cases was mainly determined by the headphones. Let's move on to the measurements in the RightMark Audio Analyzer program version 6.3.0, but first we traditionally note that they are presented solely as illustrations — it is absolutely not worth drawing unambiguous conclusions about the quality of the device based on them. The measurement results are influenced by a number of factors, including the selected volume level.

At the same time, the difference between the ratings “very good” and “excellent,” for example, is often a fraction of a percent — it is impossible to catch it by ear. At the same time, measurements and graphs can help us see really serious problems: too high a level of distortion, noticeable unevenness in the frequency response, and so on. For the rest, you should rely on your own impressions — after all, if the sound brings joy, the “numbers” fade into the background. The measurements were carried out using the E1DA Cosmos ADC with a wired connection to the source in 24 bit/96 kHz mode, using a balanced output. All indicators are at the “excellent” level, which is to be expected.

Frequency response unevenness (in the range 40 Hz — 15 kHz), dB−0.01, −0.06Great
Noise level, dB(A)−109.2Great
Dynamic range, dB(A)110.2Great
Harmonic distortion,%0.00097Great
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A)−96.3Great
Intermodulation distortion + noise, %0.00131Great
Interpenetration of channels, dB−99.7Great
Intermodulation at 10 kHz, %0.00118Great
Overall ratingGreat
Frequency response
Noise level
Dynamic range
Harmonic distortion + noise (−3 dB)
Intermodulation distortion
Intermodulation distortion (variable frequency)

Let's look at the frequency response graph when connected via Bluetooth. It is far from being as “smooth” as with a wired one — apparently, in this way the device compensates for the peculiarities of the connection and operation of the codecs used. She does this very delicately; subjectively, the sound remains balanced and pleasant.

Above we saw a very interesting option called “distortion compensation” — let’s check if it really works. First, let's look at distortion during a Bluetooth connection using the LDAC codec. Their level is expected to be higher than with a wired connection. The “comb” of the second harmonic in the region of 2 kHz especially stands out against the general background.

To begin with, we will enable compensation for the second harmonic — the changes are noticeable at first glance, the function really works.

Let's add compensation for the third harmonic — the graph looks a little more interesting, but it becomes obvious that the system operates effectively mainly in the HF range. But the main thing is that it works and is quite usable with a Bluetooth connection.

Results

To introduce you to the topic, we noted that due to the huge success of the previous BTR5 model, expectations for the updated device were high. We can confidently say that the new DAC/amplifier lived up to these expectations: it proved to be extremely successful, possessing high-quality sound, versatility and ease of use. This clearly puts it on the pedestal of a leader in its segment. Despite this, the manufacturer still has devices in its lineup that are more compact and more comfortable to wear. Sometimes these qualities can be more important than improved sound and a larger screen. Thus, the question of how versatile and comprehensive the FiiO BTR7 is does not have a clear answer. For some use cases it may be beneficial to have a suitable smaller version of the «DAC amp».