FiiO E12A – Review

Since the first time I’ve heard FiiO X5 I became one of its fans and I do own one for myself now. I’m enjoying it almost everyday at work and in vacations.

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends came with something in his hand that looked pretty much like a bomb. It was actually an X5 paired with the new FiiO E12A.

I thought it was the normal E12 which I liked a lot, but then he explained that it is the IEM Special Edition which drew my attention even more.

General Presentation and Specs

Let’s take a look at the X5 –  E12A combo.

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Ok, put a timer screensaver with a beep sound when the number decreases, go to a restaurant and leave it on a random table.

Just kidding, don’t do that, it might not be in your advantage. I personally like the military aspect of this combo. It is a little big, but it sounds amazing. The connection cable between the 2 comes in the same package with the HS6 stacking kit and it is pure PCOCC-A single core copper.

The first thing you can find on their page is that the op-amps from the normal E12 were upgraded to MUSES02 +LME49600. Having heard the Asus Xonar One Muses Edition and the improvements they brought to the sound, I could only get more excited.

I am not a spec freak, but I do value good specifications a lot and while I don’t think that they make the sound alone, I do think that they are very important.

FiiO managed to achieve an amazing THD of <0.003% and a S/N ratio of  >115dB. Those are some pretty serious numbers coming from a portable amplifier priced at ~150$.

It has the power of 420 mW in 16 ohms.

Some other specs:

Volume Control : ALPS Potentiometer

Battery Capacity: 1500 mAh

Bass Boost Range: 4 dB (Bass On)

Battery Life: >20h

Charging Time: < 3 h

Output Impedance : < 0.3  Ω

Max Output Current: 113.3 mA

I also love how it looks. It has a uni-body chassis of aluminium alloy that seems quite durable and also looks great.

FiiO E12A Review (3)

Tests and Listening Experience

The tests were performed with iFi iDSD Micro, Sennheiser HD800,  Audeze LCD-X,  HiFiMAN HE-560, Shure 535-LTD, Sennheiser IE800, FiiO X5, FiiO E12A.

One of the first things I have tested was the bass boost and I think this is one of the best implementation I have heard until now. It adds more sub/mid bass and it doesn’t take away too much from the transparency as it doesn’t invade the mids at all.

I think it was great with HD800 and with my Shure 535 – LTD which are quite bright with the default filter.

Even if they say that this is the IEM special edition and it worked great with IE800 and 535, I also tried it with HD800, LCD-X and Hifiman -560 and it behaved like a small champ. It handled all of them impressively well and I really enjoyed myself with HD800 and LCD-X which sounded amazing from it, while with Hifiman HE-560 I felt it was a little under-powered, but enough to decently enjoy it for a while.

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Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Starting Something

The differences with E12A with X5 were immediate. The drums had better impact and depth and Michael’s voice was considerably better textured and extended. Every sound was better defined and this sprung to hearing more details in the scene. Even with LCD-X and HD800 the sound had authority and impact, generating an addictive PRAT.

Hugh Laurie – Saint James Infirmary

The piano from the beginning was the first obvious improvement over the stock amplifier in X5, as the notes were considerably more detailed with better extension in both ends and better impact. All the instruments were “effected” in a similar positive way. Hugh’s voice presented detailed textures, better transparency and presence.

Dream Theater – The Root of All Evil

The added clarity from E12A amazed me again. The guitars were more extended and visceral, the drums had considerably more impact. Everything sounded more engaging and fast, leading to a headbanging sound experience.

Offenbach – Barcarolle , from the “The Tales of Hoffman”

The transparency and detail added by E12A brought the experience of this song to a completely new level. It really lets the dac from X5 to shine. At the beginning I’ve heard a car passing by the recording studio. Everything clearer, every instrument was better delimited and had more life.

Mike Oldfield – Cochise

The small guitar plucks are very sparkly and tickled my ear in a very enjoyable way, while the acoustic guitar extended it’s sound in a very well delimited soundstage. When the electric guitar kicked in, it showed a detailed and visceral extension. The song was a delight to listen to on this combo.

Mercedes Sosa – Kyrie

This song always gets to me when I am listening to it on proper audio gear and this was one of those times. The chorus was well defined and the numerous voices were nicely separated. The drum had a strong impact that lost itself in the deep stage. The voice of Mercedes Sosa was moving as it should be, with good volume, as when it went from silent to strong you could feel the good dynamic range E12A is capable of.

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Summary

Bass

The bass is considerably more detailed, having better extension, punch and control. The bass boost was nicely implemented, and it went very well with my Shure 535 LTD and with HD800. Overall, the bass section is one of the strong points of E12A, managing to add both quality and quantity when needed.

Midrange

The midrange is rich and quite awesome as well, presenting detailed and tactile instruments accompanied by present and well textured voices.

Treble

I felt the treble to be well tamed with good extension. I didn’t find situations that bothered me, not even with HD800. This doesn’t mean this amplifier is dark. It does have spark and extension but not in an invasive and un-natural way.

Details

The details improved a lot with E12A and I started hearing stuff I wasn’t able to hear with just the X5, like on the Barcarolle song presented earlier, when a car passed by the recording studio. Well, I would understand why you would say that you don’t need to hear that in a song, but this also affects all the other sounds. Let’s take for example the guitar plucks which are better delimited in both ends, meaning that they start with a stronger impact and have a faster and more natural decay, but with a clearer extension. You get the same effect with all other instruments and even voices.

Transparency

This is very, very strong feature of E12A. Everything sounds incredibly transparent and clean and I didn’t expect this level of performance from such a small unit and at this price. I’m telling ya, in this area, it beats a lot of desktop amplifiers.

Instrument Separation & Imaging

The instruments are very well contoured, presenting very good separation and layering. Nothing seemed to blend in the same layer. This was also a considerably step up from the amplifier in X5.

Soundstage

The soundstage is more spacious, not huge, but it is very well delimited and the instruments are well positioned in the scene. Damn, this unit is so good, that I’m starting to compare it to full desktop amplifiers. The soundstage is good for a portable amplifier, but this is where it looses points when compared to full sized amplifiers, especially on the width and depth. In comparison with bigger amplifiers it sounds a little closed in.

Transients & Energy

The transients on E12A are impressive as well. The attack is explosive and the decay is very fast, leading to a very energetic and tactile sound experience.

Neutrality

I see that FiiO has parted with their older warmer sound and approached the neutral solution. While I liked the old warm sound too, I prefer their new neutral approach as I find it more mature and more versatile with different type of music.

Compared to the amplifier in iFi Micro iDSD

iFI Micro iDSD Review (12)

Having both units around, I thought I’d see how E12A compares to the Micro iDSD and the results weren’t disappointing at all. With big headphones, Micro won overall, showing a more natural sound with a bigger and more holographic soundstage and better instrument extension. It also had better textured voices and instruments. The power that iFi has also lead to better dynamics.

However, with more efficient headphones, especially the IEMS, E12A had a clearer and more engaging sound with faster transients and more power on the attack. I also liked the bass boost from FiiO better than the one found on the Micro as it did not take away as much from the overall transparency of the unit while it was turned on.

Conclusions

FiiO manages to amaze me constantly with their new products and the prices they come on the market. The E12A is no exception. It took FiiO X5 to a completely other level. I think that only now I’ve really listened to the DAC inside X5. The level of transparency, details and energy the E12 is capable of is just astonishing from my perspective.

Even if it is called the IEM edition, it did a great job even with my Sennheiser HD800 and LCD-X. It did however shine even more with IEMS and very efficient headphones, as it brought the Shure 535 LTD and IE800 to a whole other level of transparency, details, energy and level in general.

It is really hard to find a con to this product. If I would have to add something, I would have to compare it to more expensive full sized amplifiers. In some areas like transparency and details, I think that it beats a lot of full sized desktop amplifiers. The one thing that is limited compared to them is the soundstage that sounds a little closed in, even if the instruments have a clear and defined position in space, that space is smaller.

Pros

  • Good build quality and nice design
  • Very good and clean bass with good extension, strong punch and control
  • Detailed and rich mids
  • Present, clean and well extended voices
  • Good natural treble without harshness
  • Excellent transparency
  • Very good details
  • Excellent instrument separation and Imaging
  • Fast transients and exploding attack
  • Engaging sound with very good PRAT
  • Very well implemented bass boost
  • Good battery life (used it at the office 2-3 days in a row without charging it)
  • Excellent price/performance ratio

Cons

  • some may consider it too big to carry it around with X5 or other DAP
  • less power than the older E12
  • you can accidentally change the volume on E12A when you put it in your pocket

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