On-the-go audiophiles are spoiled for choice these days - there are all kinds of portable “source” formats available to help extract the best possible performance from your wired IEMs and headphones. If you’re the kind of person that prefers to have a separate device to store or stream your tunes whilst packing a more capable DAC and amplifier stage than the humble smartphone or laptop, then a Digital Audio Player (or, “DAP”) might be your cup of tea. Or, if you’d prefer to use your smartphone to handle playback duties, connecting a portable headphone amp/DAC or “dongle”-style device can help bridge the performance gap to your ears, without ever breaking a physical connection between your source device and your ears.
However, in recent years another category of portable source has risen - one which does away with the wired connection between your smartphone and player, allowing you to have a degree of wireless freedom and convenience while still letting you enjoy all the benefits of your favourite wired earphones. I’m talking about Bluetooth DAC/amps, A.K.A “Bluetooth receivers” - diminutive devices capable of receiving and decoding a hi-resolution signal wirelessly from a source device, and then feeding your earphones with the adequate voltage required to enjoy your favourite tunes.
While Bluetooth technology is still technically “lossy” compared to good-old 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality digital audio, it’s not far off - codecs such as LDAC (developed by Sony) can transmit as high as 990kb/s, which (under most circumstances) is getting you most of the way there in terms of fidelity. And, when you think about the convenience benefits that wireless audio affords, then it’s a pretty neat quid pro quo in terms of trade-offs.
Chinese audio manufacturer FiiO is no stranger to Bluetooth technology - in fact, they’ve developed some of the most innovative and diversified examples of this wireless format across their expansive product portfolio, including their collection of DAPs, Bluetooth tranceivers, wireless IEM adapters, wireless noise-cancelling headphones, and true wireless IEMs. And back to the topic of Bluetooth DAC/amps, FiiO’s BTR5 has been a firm benchmark and Addicted To Audio customer favourite when it comes to providing a degree of wireless freedom with your existing headphone and IEM collection.
Meet the new FiiO BTR7
Based on the success of this sub-category of this kind of portable device, FiiO has just launch the brand-new $309 FiiO BTR7 Bluetooth DAC & Headphone Amplifier (or $329 if you’re and Apple user and would like a lightning adapter included) which pips the already well-specced BTR5 in just about every performance category - greater power, greater battery capacity, greater digital performance, and even greater convenience and usability.
With its DAP-like levels of power, terrific DAC and Bluetooth chip, plus the ability to choose between wireless or wired modes, the BTR7 presents itself as a compelling and versatile portable playback companion that means that you might find yourself skipping the need for a DAP altogether, whilst treating yourself to a significant upgrade in sound quality over your smartphone or laptop’s headphone output - if they still have one! And, unlike a DAP, you can have convenient access to all your smartphone’s audio features while using the BTR7 and its inbuilt microphone, meaning you can take phone-calls, jump on a video call, or use Siri/Google Assistant without needing to be near your device.
FiiO BTR7 design and form-factor
Despite being marginally larger than the BTR5, the new BTR7 is quite the compact device. Tipping the scales at a mere 68 grams and measuring 39.6x83.6x14.6mm - about the size of two thumbs - the BTR7 is tiny enough to slip into that little pocket in the front of your jeans, or perhaps keep discreetly tucked away inside your shirt or jacket pocket. While it’s only a featherweight device, the BTR7 feels like a robust, well-made, and substantial device thanks to its sculpted metal enclosure around the outside edges of the device, which also doubles as the device's “antenna”. I’d go so far as to say that the BTR7 actually looks (and feels) like a miniature “DAP” thanks to the fact that it shares much of the same FiiO design language as their larger players - including their top-of-the-range FiiO M17 Portable High-Resolution Audio Player - sporting familiar hexagonal buttons, and angular “gamer”-like aesthetic features.
Having useful, tactile on-board controls are important if you’re not physically connected to your source device, and the BTR7 certainly doesn’t disappoint in that sense. The “power” button does just that - it turns the BTR7 on and off, turns the screen on and off (more about the BTR7’s excellent screen in a moment), and also provides access to its menu features. The multi-function button beneath the power button manages music play/pause as well as call answer/hang-up features with a single click, enables your device’s smart assistant function with a double-click, helps navigate menu selections, and enables Bluetooth pairing with a long press. The volume +/- “rocker” buttons do exactly what you think they do - attenuate between 60 increments of volume, as well as changing tracks with a long press or double press (you can choose between either option in the companion “FiiO Control” app).
The BTR7 offers both single-ended and balance headphone outputs, featuring 3.5mm and 4.4mm “Pentaconn” jacks. The inclusion of the 4.4mm output versus the 2.5mm balanced output on the BTR5 is a signal that this format is becoming more widely adopted by headphone manufacturers, and promises to provide a wider range of compatibility with both IEMs and full-sized headphones alike. The BTR7 can output as much as 320mW (into 32-ohms) from the 4.4mm jack, which does drop down to 40mW when it comes to powering headphones with a 300-ohm load.
One of the nicest features on the BTR7 that makes it feel like quite the “smart” device is its excellent 1.3-inch IPS display. The colourful screen presents all kinds of useful information that makes playback and general “liveability” with the BTR7 generally excellent, including volume, battery level, and the Bluetooth codec or digital file type being decoded (as well as the sample rate). The BTR7 also has a fairly comprehensive settings menu that can be scrolled-through and controlled on-screen, allowing you to choose between gain setting (high and low), digital filter options (“Fast” or “Hybrid Fast”), EQ presents (options like “Jazz”, “Rock”, or “Dance”), Car Mode, USB settings, screen dimmer/timer, and more.
FiiO BTR7 packaging and accessories
The BTR7 arrives in an appropriately-svelte black hinged cardboard box, which is both premium and unfussy, like all other current FiiO offerings. In addition to the BTR7 itself, you also receive a warranty card, a quick-start guide, plus a very nice light grey leather-like protective pouch that the device simply slides in and out of. The pouch feels durable and looks rather nice to boot, with a cutout for the BTR7’s screen and mic plus embossings for the control buttons.
The “standard” BTR7 is provided with two short USB cables - a USB-C to USB-C cable, plus a USB-C to full-size USB-A cable for connecting it to any number of charging and smart devices. The “Apple Deluxe Edition” of the BTR7 comes with an additional USB-C to Lightning cable for hooking it up to iPhones.
Under the BTR7’s hood
At the heart of the BTR7 lies not one, but two THX AAA-28 amplifier modules (yes, that THX that you probably know from the “loud” noise that you hear at the start of a film at the cinema). THX amplifiers are highly renowned in the audio industry for their low noise and distortion, as well as their extremely linear performance. FiiO were able to fit four amplification channels inside the BTR7 to create a fully-balance design, capable of 88% more single-ended and 30% more balanced power versus earlier designs. Power output at 16/32/300 ohms impedance is as follows from the 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balance outputs:
- 3.5mm SE 165mW（16Ω loaded)
- 3.5mm SE 160mW（32Ω loaded）
- 3.5mm SE 18mW（300Ω loaded
- 4.4mm BAL 235mW（16Ω loaded
- 4.4mm BAL 320mW（32Ω loaded
- 4.4mm BAL 40mW（300Ω loaded）
The BTR7’s digital decoding duties are handled by a pair of ES9219C DAC chips, one being used in each channel paired with a THX amplifier module as well as a low-pass filter. FiiO has ensured that the BTR7 is well-equipped when used in wired USB-DAC made, and its XMOS XUF208 chip helps it decode PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256 natively, as well as supporting MQA x8 rendering. All told, the BTR7’s performance specifications are hugely impressive for a device of this size, and this price - not only does it have rather healthy headphone-powering output, but also impressive distortion and signal-to-noise ratio characteristics: less than 0.00048% total harmonic distortion + noise and 118dB respectively, which puts many larger desktop devices to shame!
As impressive as the BTR7’s USB-DAC credentials are, it’s touted as a Bluetooth device first and foremost. FiiO has equipped the BTR7 with Qualcomm’s QCC5124 Bluetooth chip, featuring a dual-core CPU architecture. The BTR7 is able to decode up to 24-bit/96kHz wirelessly (which technically puts it in the “hi-res” camp despite Bluetooth’s lossy characteristics), and is capable of managing all the usual Bluetooth codecs such as SBC and AAC, plus the higher-res codecs like aptX HD/Adaptive and LDAC.
The BTR7’s battery capacity has been upped to an impressive 880 mAh, good for a reported 4.5 hours in single-ended playback, or four hours using its balanced output. Charging the BTR7 is managed through a USB-c port on the bottom of the device, which takes up to 1.5 hours using a standard wired charger, or up to 3 hours using a wireless charger. Yes, that’s right - the BTR7 is compatible with wireless chargers. As someone who has a wireless charging pad on both my bedside and office desk, I can’t stress how useful this is - especially if the BTR7’s USB-C port is busy when using it as a “traditional” wired DAC. A toggle switch on the side of the device switches charging on and off, useful if you have it connected to your smartphone and don’t wish to draw power from it. Unlike a battery-less “dongle” DAC, the BTR7’s built-in battery means that there’s no battery penalty for your smartphone when using it.
Living with the FiiO BTR7
The FiiO BTR7 turned out to be quite an easy-to-love, easy-to-use, and thoroughly versatile device having spent a good couple of weeks getting to know it. In its main guise as a Bluetooth DAC/amp, getting it paired up with your streaming source of choice couldn’t be easier - it was ready to pair the moment I fired it up out of the box, and once I’d mated it with my Pixel 6 it was ready to start playing back music of the high-res variety via Qobuz and Tidal.
From my testing, I can say that the BTR7’s Bluetooth connection is utterly reliable. Whether I was roaming around my apartment detached from my musical source of choice, or out listening to IEMs while running with my phone in another pocket, I never experienced so much as a stutter or drop-out. Being a strong-performing Bluetooth device, I put it to good use for not only enjoying a few tunes, but also for general productivity and video watching as well. Got a phone call coming through while you’re enjoying a bit of Kyuss? No matter, the BTR7 can handle things courtesy of its in-built mic as well. Fancy a few episodes of The Expanse on the couch with your favourite open back headphones? Easy - just use the BTR7 as a Bluetooth receiver by hooking it up to your smart TV. Or, if you want to add a terrific Bluetooth streaming source to your two-channel system, simply set the BTR7’s volume to “max” and hook it up to an integrated amplifier or powered speakers and control playback remotely from your source device.
Sure, you’re not going “fully” wireless when using a device like the BTR7, but it’s a significant upgrade in both sound quality and convenience when you think about the fact that a) you can use any pair of high quality IEMs that you like with it, and b) you can keep your phone untethered from your audio device, leaving it free to watch things, take photos of things, or generally wield it around willy-nilly without yanking on the earphones that are connected to your ears. And for those reasons, I find that this form-factor of DAC/amps strikes a perfect balance in terms of listening enjoyment and overall liveability.
When you do find yourself a little more stationary, the BTR7 basically turns itself into an “uber-dongle” - you’re able to enjoy glorious, lossless, hi-res music in practically any format with it plugged into your laptop or phone via USB. While it’s still quite a small device in the scheme of things, it’s substantial and sturdy enough (especially while in its case) that it’ll stay relatively still on your desktop with your IEMs or headphones plugged into it. And, unlike your garden-variety “dongle”, it’s simple on-board volume and playback controls makes it far more useful as a day-to-day listening device.
One thing that can’t be understated is just how awesome the BTR7’s colour screen is. While it won’t display playback information about the track you’re listening to, having it there to tell you about its connection, file format, and volume status makes it feel far more comprehensive as your daily listening companion - it makes it feel like a “micro-DAP”, if you will.
Adding to the BTR7’s overall usefulness and flexibility is FiiO’s excellent “FiiO Control” app, which lets you get under the skin of the device a little more, and tweak it to make it your own or satisfy your inner nerd a little more. The EQ preset functions are fun to play with in terms of broad brushstroke tuning control, but the app also gives you ten-band equaliser control to better fine-tune things depending on your tastes or the headphones/IEMs that you’re listening to. The app also gives you the ability to set volume and phonecall volume limits, fiddle with channel balance, and activate a “Boost” mode when using the BTR7’s balanced 4.4mm output - which comes in handy when using it with harder-to-drive full-sized headphones. And being a “smart” device, you can also use the app for future over-the-air firmware updates, reboot it to factory settings, clear paired Bluetooth devices, and more.
Listening to the FiiO BTR7
Whether in wired or wireless mode, the BTR7 provides a thoroughly impressive, detailed, and nuanced performance that I’ve come to expect from FiiO’s latest family of digital devices. It doesn’t really have a sound “signature”, per se, but rather provides a faithful and insightful window through to your source material while giving your IEMs or headphones (up to a certain limit) of choice the power they need to extract a spirited and enjoyable performance out of them. The BTR7’s linear and incisive sound is reminiscent of other THX-equipped devices that I’ve spent time listening to, and the fact that FiiO has been able to squeeze not one, but two THX amps inside the tiny chassis is pretty remarkable indeed.
Given its form-factor and relatively modest output (320mW in balanced mode is still nothing to sneeze at), the BTR7 is likely to find itself partnered with IEMs or earbuds, for the most part. I say this, firstly because a pair of IEMs plugged into the BTR7 makes for a pretty compact listening rig. And secondly, because the BTR7 sounds superb with every IEM that I’ve had the chance to test it with. My Ultimate Ears UE LIVE Custom In-Ear Monitors can be pretty hiss-prone as CIEMs go at 10-ohms impedance/105dB sensitivity, but there’s nothing but inky-black goodness when plugged into the BTR7. Streaming a 24-bit/48kHz Qobuz stream of John Mayer’s Last Train Home via LDAC Bluetooth, the BTR7 helps extract every iota of the UE Live’s wonderfully warm and textured character with perhaps the slightest hint of additional warm, presenting lashings of impactful and dynamic bass, organic-sounding silky vocals, and an even-handed highest-octave with plenty of detail and insight.
Plugging it into my Pixel 6 to test that same track via USB, I have to say that the BTR7 doesn’t give up that much by way of sound quality versus the lossless information fed to it over a digital cable. There’s a slightly-more cohesive and filled-out sound in wired format, and you’d have to listen closely to what’s happening in the upper air department to really pull them apart - there’s a little more believability in the cymbal-decay in USB than there is versus Bluetooth, but I can say with all confidence that the convenience-factor of not having the BTR7 tethered to your phone more than makes up for the delta in performance. Still, it’s nice to have that option to nit-pick and extract the last fragment of performance from the BTR7 if you want to go ahead and plug it in.
FiiO’s own FF3 Dynamic Earbuds (which I recently reviewed) are a brilliant pairing with their digital stablemate. Plug in the FF3’s 4.4mm balance cable termination into the BTR7, and you’re basically able to enjoy open-back headphone-like performance anywhere you like - even while you’re out enjoying a stroll! Powered by the BTR7, the Saharan desert grooves of Tinariwen’s Sastanàqqàm sounds full-blooded and weighty, with oodles of snarling electric bite and nicely-separated and easily identifiable individual vocal tracks from the backup singers.
Although it does feel a little strange plugging a pair of full-sized headphones into so tiny a device, the BTR7 is most certainly a viable option if you want to add a dose of wireless freedom to your favourite cans. The BTR7’s power output is respectful, rather than prodigious, but has more than enough shove to extract the familiar dynamic slam that comes part-and-parcel with the Focal Clear Open Back Headphones. This pairing sounded absolutely killer with one of my favourite hard rock records of all time, The Cult’s Electric, showing-off the Clear’s signature immediacy and transparency in the upper mids, plus plenty of crisp zing up top. I did need to use an XLR to 4.4mm adapter in order to run the Clears balanced with the BTR7, and I’m not kidding when I say that the adapter weighed more than the device itself!
When it comes to harder-to-drive headphones, the BTR7 can be used in a pinch. I don’t mean to sell it too short - it does a pretty convincing job of powering the Sennheiser HD880s Audiophile Headphones to properly loud listening levels at 25/60 volume increments, but tends to perform better with more acoustic-focused tracks like Kyuss’ Space Cadet rather than their denser, harder-hitting material like One Inch Man, which feels a fraction too congested - higher-powered desktop or portable amplifiers with more headroom on tap will lend the HD800s a greater tonal mass plus better instrument separation.
I often say that the best examples of hifi equipment aren’t the one with the highest price-tag or the greatest specifications, they’re the ones that’ll make you want to listen to music more often. The new FiiO BTR7 has all the ingredients to become the “MVP” in your daily carry, and that’s because with it there’s never an excuse not to listen to great sound wherever you find yourself. Some on-the-go audiophiles like to mix true wireless IEMs into their repertoire, despite having inferior sonic qualities over their wired counterparts. The excellent performance, modest pricetag, and terrific sound of the BTR7 means that you can suddenly make any pair of IEMs (or headphones!) in your collection a whole lot “smarter”, by making all your smartphone’s connectivity features available to them.
The BTR7’s excellent DAC, customisable features, solid user experience and surprising power make it the best device of this form-factor yet to hit the market. These factors also make a good case for the BTR7 being perhaps the only portable DAC/amp you’ll need for the foreseeable future - whether you choose to plug it in or not.