Although till now I didn’t review any portable amps from Fiio, with this new product and most important thanks to the quality that it promises, I was curious and even waited for the moment when I will listen to the new E12 portable amp.
E12 is not derived for old portable amps as E3, E5, E6 or even from E11 – that is known to be a quite good portable amp. E12 is labeled as a premium product, as for now it is the best portable headphone amp from Fiio. Integrated circuits used and the promised power output are better than that found in E10, E07K and even better than E17. It was obtained a power of 2-3 times better than in case of E17, actually it has almost the same power as E09K (home headphone amp).
The specs impress and it seems like I’m looking at specs of a home headphone amp: it has 880mW in 32 Ohms, maximum voltage output is 15.5 Vp-p, maximum gain of 16dB and THD is very low at only 0.005%.
Besides the impressive specifications, the device has two interesting features: Hardware crossfeed (thanks God!) and a slight bass boost of 3-4dB in the lows area of 20-80Hz.
Ok, got it, interesting features, bass boost is nice but what does crossfeed ?
Well it’s quite simple, when we listen to speakers the sound from left speaker is heard also with the right ear but slightly more quietly and delayed than with the left ear, but still it is heard. With headphones as you know what plays in left headphone it is heard only with the left ear, that is why on some old recordings the extreme stereo effect is more often met, when headphone listening was not an option. Crossfeed makes music more natural sounding and more fatigue free and tries to imitate speaker sound intersecting slightly both audio channels, thus what is played in the right headphone is also played in the left headphone but more quietly and a little bit delayed (by a micro second). This way a more natural sound and most important less fatigue is achieved on very old recordings. As an example can be music from The Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and many many others.
Bass boost is also a little bit special this time, it is different than that found in E10, E07K or in E17. Here it is amplified only the lowest bass (sub bass) and it does not alter at all lower mids or mids. Thereby bass quantity is the same, but base has a better kick to it and goes slightly lower, this effect is subtle but it is very welcome for headphones such as Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701 or Beyerdynamic DT880.
Construction and build quality is at a high standard, it is made from machined aluminum, has Alps volume pot, Wima red caps, the op-amps used are LME49710 having as buffer LME49600. Both op-amps are only used only in hi-fidelity applications and as of today are among the best from Texas Instruments.
The design reminds a bit of iPhone 5 and it has almost the same size. Speaking of size, the amp is quite big, it is a bit bigger than E07K/E17 and has almost the same size as smartphones with a ~4” screen.
The sound is quite different from all Fiio products tested till now. With everything set to off the headphone amp practically does not have a sonic signature, it is slightly less warm than the sound from E07K/E17, this time choosing absolute neutrality. Sure if a more fun and alive sound signature is wanted bass boost can be used, or for a fatigue free sound crossfeed can be used. Besides extremely linear sound signature and almost an inexistent one, first thing that pops out is the scale of soundstage and how black the background could be. Clearly it has a bigger soundstage in depth and height comparing to other portable amps or combos heard lately. If I close my eyes and I let myself go with the music when I open my eyes I can almost swear that I am listening to a home amp.
Of course a great contribution to this feeling brought the power that shows what it is capable of. With the gain set to high and with volume pot set at half HD800 and also LCD-2 are starting to become speakers :). It doesn’t have any problem with any headphones , planar magnetics or just dynamics, 32 or 300 ohms, the control of headphone drivers is impressive and it doesn’t seem to lack power.
Due to harmonic distortion so low the background is extremely dark and the sound is very airy, detailed and not congested. Connected to a good portable player or a smartphone I felt that it doesn’t add any distortion or that it changes the sound signature of the player, but adds so much desired power for hungry headphones.
For a good pairing it can be used with inefficient IEMs/CIEMs, with high impedance headphones or just with headphones that are hard to power to their potential.
I listened to it more connected to a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ full of flac files, powering a Sennheiser HD800 and Ultimate Sound 3D CIEMs with enabled bass boost. On a more rhythmic music HD800 and US 3D had everything: deep and fast bass, airy mids and detailed highs. Lack of a sound signature of the device and extra airy sound means a very good matching almost with any headphones of any type, with different sound signatures.
Airy sound made stereo image to be well pronounced and feeling of the open window to the sound is easily felt. Imaging is a bit more 3D compared to other Fiio devices and many times reminds of the quality of its bigger brother: E09K.
It is remarkable that not a single frequency is predominant and the sound is more hi-fi and leaning more towards fidelity and precision than to a fun and colored sound. While I consider it as a plus, some might categorize linearity as a minus.
Precision and linearity did not influence dynamics, we have here a fast sound, that hits hard, obvious shortcomings were not felt, bass is as present as the rest of the spectrum. As almost on all FiiO products detailed highs are not scratchy or bothersome, I didn’t felt sharpness neither on HD800, nor un US 3D – a good sign.
E12 is superior to headphone amps such as E07K or E17 almost from any angle, in case you need extra portable power and maybe on your place of work I know for sure that E12 will do the job successfully.
A serious headphone amp from any point of view. It is well built, has extra features and sounds good. Airy, large and detailed sound makes it a good companion for any headphones and the power reserve is big enough to power even planar magnetics.
For sure it cannot be compared with the refinement of the amps costing few thousands Euros but it is quite close to them at a very reasonable price. We have information that it will be sold at approximately 110 Euros in less than a month, including in Romania.
– Solid construction, elegant design
– Extra features built in
– Linear sound, lack of any sound signature
– Detailed, large soundstage, well positioned stereo image
– A fair price considering it’s premium sound and power reserve
– Linear sound can also be attributed as a minus
Gear used for the review:
Sennheiser HD800, Ultimate Sound 3D, Audeze LCD-2, Sandisk Sana Clip+, Fiio E07K, E17, E12.