FiiO E12 'Mont Blanc' Headphone Amp review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 28, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: Fiio E12 Portable Headphone Amp - 850 mw power - YouTube

    The new FiiO Mont Blanc (no affiliation with Mont Blanc writing pens) headphone amp is about the same length as the iPhone 4s, about 1/4 inch wider, and about 50 percent thicker, which is still very slim for the overall size. Given the expected battery capacity (12 or more hours on a charge) and the amount of power output this amp has (850 mw maximum), the overall size is respectably small. But before I describe the build and features I want to describe the sound.

    I connected an iPod Touch 5th gen. to the E12 using a 5-inch FiiO LOD cable with the Apple DAC adapter, and an identical iPod Touch to my PA2V2 amp using an identical cable and adapter, playing WAV-format tracks on one and 320k CBR MP3 tracks I converted from my WAV tracks on the other. When the WAV tracks were playing through the PA2V2 amp, the sound was clearly better than the MP3's playing through the E12 amp, and so I switched the iPods and re-listened, and the better quality went to the E12 in about the same proportion. I also ended up comparing the WAV and MP3 tracks on the same iPod through the E12 only and confirmed the difference, which was surprising insofar as how much difference there was and how easy it was to hear.

    So the high end of the E12 and the PA2V2 were comparable, at least with no obvious differences, but the bass was a different matter. Using the E12 with the bass switch set to OFF, the bass seemed slightly less boomy and had slightly better deep-bass impact than the PA2V2. This is a fairly subtle difference, but one that you'd really notice with longer term listening. My overall impression of the E12 sound is that it's very clear and clean, with excellent deep-bass impact and highs that are extended and detailed, but smooth and non-irritating. The bass boost switch works well in that the deep bass gets a noticeable boost along with the upper bass, and there's an increase in overall warmth. Using the E12 outdoors or on public transport, you might find that the bass boost makes very little audible difference because of the ambient noise, but used in a quieter place the difference is dramatic.

    I'm finding that all of my common dynamic headphones get plenty of volume within the low (zero) gain setting, with no background amp noise at maximum volume, so I tried the high (16) gain setting, and that boosted the volume quite a bit. With the gain on high and the volume turned all the way up to maximum (with the music paused of course) the background noise from the amp was barely audible, and inaudible just a bit below maximum. I'd guess the amp noise is 30 db or so below my listening level, and much better in that respect than the other amps I'm currently using. The crossfeed switch seems to collapse the soundstage on nearly every track I tried it with, and as an experienced headphone listener, I don't find it particularly useful. I was concerned about whether the sound quality of the E12 might change with the low or high gain setting, but comparing as carefully as I could, I didn't hear any differences.

    The E12 is a solid and slim aluminum box (size described above), black anodized, with only one significant projection on the front end being the volume control knob. That knob is rather stiff, so it won't get changed when being carried around and occasionally bumped. The small blue LED next to the volume knob notes the power on and good battery status. Another LED to the left of that one comes on when the battery is low. There are just 3 ports on the E12 - a micro USB charging port and the Source Line In and Headphone Out ports. The E12 is simple enough with an excellent build quality, and I can't imagine anyone not loving this little amp when they get it into their hands. There's a major** difference in sound between using an iPod/iPhone/cellphone music player alone and using any of those with the E12, but that difference might be mostly lost in very noisy environments, although the volume gain and/or bass boost may help a lot.

    **For less experienced users, going from a portable music player alone to using the E12 amp might seem like a very subtle change in sound quality, but to really appreciate the differences, listen at length with the E12, then switch back to the music player alone in the middle of a track and note how much of the "life" seems to disappear from the music.

    The FiiO E12 comes with a short miniplug-to-miniplug cable to connect the headphone jack of a cellphone or portable music player to the E12, but since the iPod and iPhone LOD (Line Out Dock) bypasses the i-device volume control, I use the FiiO LOD cables instead of the mini-to-mini cable that FiiO includes for free.
     
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