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FiiO E18 Kunlun Portable Smartphone Amp/DAC Review

"We are impressed with the sound quality and power which the Fiio E18 provides; together with the mobile DAC functinality and everything else, nothing gives better value for money."

fiio e18

Verdict

We are impressed with the sound quality and power which the Fiio E18 provides; together with the mobile DAC functinality and everything else, nothing gives better value for money. However, it would have been much better (and safer) to have that gain switch recessed, or indeed buried into the side of the unit, rather like the E12. There's no way we would chance using the E18 with an IEM whilst out and about. Either that prominent gain button should be ripped off or the switch covered up with tape, to save our ears from a possible bashing. Similar with the track/play/pause controls on the side of the unit - these can be swithed and operated all too easily.

Pros

  • Great Value
  • Oodles of power
  • Extra functionality with smartphones

Cons

  • Gain switch and track select buttons too prominent

Border

The Swiss have enjoyed enormous success with their pocket knives, they are handy and can do a variety of jobs. However if wishing to hack your way through the jungle, a 3-inch blade is going to keep you busy.

Up until recently, portable headphone amps appear to have been aimed at providing a good level of power, or a lot of features. The Fiio E18 changes this, as it can accept a digital signal from a multitude of handsets as well as PC, and amplify enough to power any less-sensitive headphones up to 600 Ohms! Please check the E18 Kunlun page on Fiio's site (http://www.fiio.cn) for exact details on compatibility.

Key Features

The E18 is a no-nonsense design like the E12, but with a few more tricks up its sleeve. DAC functionality combined with track select controls make this a versatile and useful addition to any portable set-up. Gain and bass boost controls will help get your preferred sound from a vast array of headphone models.

fiio e18

First Impressions

The track skip/back buttons on the side along with play and pause are handy, but it would have been preferable to have seen these recessed - unrequested track skips are an annoyance. Bass boost and gain switches are placed near the volume pot on the top end, and there's little to prevent accidental operation of the gain switch. Accidental operation of the gain switch could potentially be quite damaging if wearing sensitive IEMs.

There's a switch on the opposite end to select the source for the DAC (PC or phone) and also there's the option of using the E18 as a power source itself; this was tried with Fiio X3 and smartphone - they both started accepting a charge, although this smartphone is not compatible with the DAC.

The outward design is not dissimilar to that of the E12 which is an amplifier only. It has been mentioned that the E12 is a little better in terms of amplifier quality, as well as more powerful. But the question everyone wants to know the answer to is 'will it power my headphones?' and the answer is very likely to be yes.

The E18 was tried with the AKG K240 DF (600 ohms, 88dB sensitivity) and the dial wasn't turned all the way up - it was ear splittingly loud with room to spare! The E18 should be able to drive anything the modern world has to offer, within reason. The manuafacturer states an impedance range of 16 - 150 ohms, but there's nothing like trying these things. So long as your recording is done well (and not extremely quiet), the E18 is enough to really blast it out.

Sound quality

The Fiio E18 was run from a PC to test DAC functionality and quality. It was up against an X3 and E12 together, which seemed like a fair match. A 600 ohm Sennhieser HD540 was used.

The E18 appeared to give better resolution; sounds were relatively flat and dull on the X3/E12 combination. I decoupled the X3/E12 rig and plugged into the X3 alone; predictably, things improved in terms of details due to fewer connections in the chain, but the relative lack of power took some of the wind out of my X3's sails. Bass and hats were pushed back a little.

Summary

With the wants and needs of the average portable audio fan growing all the time (in part helped along by just this sort of product!) the Fiio E18 tries to tick as many boxes and cover as may bases as it can, and it does a great job of all of them.

Score: 8/10

fiio e18

About Shaun Gostelow

Shaun is co-founder of hifiheadphones.co.uk and spends most of his time dealing with the business side of running the store, but still loves listening to music with headphones just the same as ever.
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