Silicon photomultipliers are novel solid state photodetectors that recently became commercially available. The goal of this paper was to investigate their suitability for low light level detection in miniaturized functional near-infrared spectroscopy instruments. Two measurement modules with a footprint of 26×26 mm(2) were built, and the signal-to-noise ratio was assessed for variable source-detector separations between 25 and 65 mm on phantoms with similar optical properties to those of a human head. These measurements revealed that the signal-to-noise ratio of the raw signal was superior to an empirically derived design requirement for source-detector separations up to 50 mm. An arterial arm occlusion was also performed on one of the authors in vivo, to induce reproducible hemodynamic changes which confirmed the validity of the measured signals. The proposed use of silicon photomultipliers in functional near-infrared spectroscopy bears large potential for future development of precise, yet compact and modular instruments, and affords improvements of the source-detector separation by 67% compared to the commonly used 30 mm.