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%.

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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.

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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.

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Sound performance

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.

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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.

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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.

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Conclusions:

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.

Pros:

– 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

Cons:

– 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.

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24 COMENTARII

  1. Great write-up! You just sold me on this! I’ve been using the E11 but since I picked up the HD600’s, the E11 seems to be lacking slightly. I see the power output on the E12 to be a much better match!

    • Hi Bob
      I have heard E11 also, by comparison E12 is a lot more cleaner sounding and has 2 to 3 times more power reserve. It is really something. It sang with LCD-2, I am sure I will do as good with HD600 also. In my past experiences with HD600, those need a lot more power that how much a E11 can deliver.

    • @Dragos
      Atentie, E12 nu are DAC, este doar un amplificator de casti. Ca raspuns la intrebarea ta E12 are aproximativ 90% din puterea E09K, functioneaza totusi din baterie, iar E09K din priza. E12 este printre cel mai puternic amplificator portabil de casti la momentul actual.

  2. Acum am inteles, inca o intrebare as mai avea pentru tine, ca tu ai testat gama Fiio, o sa iau cel putin E07k (si cu putin noroc si E09k) ce casti recomanzi in special pentru muzica electronica si techno cu bass din plin, pana in 500 Ron, multumesc anticipat !

  3. I currently have the Bose qc15 and I was looking for an amplifier that would improve sound quality. I’ve been looking at reviews for awhile but I still cannot grasp which amplifier is better when comparing the e12 to the e9k/e17 combo. Which one do you think is better?

    • Sorry for late reply.
      Depends on your needs, E09K/E15 combo is a desktop solution and E12 is only a portable amplifier. If you listen at home go for first, if you listen on the road go for E12.

  4. Salut. Momentan am o pereche de Grado SR80i + FiiO E10. Le ascult de pe PC, dar as vrea sa folosesc castile si pe iPhone. Se merita sa iau E12, care sa il inlocuiasca pe actualul E10 la PC si eventual sa pun E12-le si pe iPhone?
    Mersi!

    • Salut Mircea,
      Stiu bine castile SR-80i, am detinut si eu o pereche.
      E12 cuplat la iPhone ar fi overkill pentru SR-80i, cu siguranta nu le trebuie atata putere, insa daca pe viitor te gandesti sa cumperi niste casti si mai bune si mai greu de condus, atunci ar fi o idee buna E12, are multa putere de rezerva.
      Pentru SR-80i este de ajuns un E02i, E06..

  5. Darku ai putea sa imi spui/recomanzi si mie un DAC care s-ar putea potrivi cu E12, dar care sa aibe cam de aceleasi dimensiunii si care sa se gaseasca si la noi. Mersi.

    • Salut Daniel,
      Cea mai usoara intrebare 🙂
      FiiO X5 iti recomand, il folosesc si eu impreuna cu E12, e superba combinatia.
      X5 poate fi si DAC si e un DAC chiar foarte capabil, umar la umar cu unele DAC-uri de 3000 Ron.

  6. Salut!
    Am deja x5, o pereche de ultrasone dj one pro, sennheiser ie8..
    As dori sa intreb:
    Mma gandeam sa imi cumpar urmatoarele:
    Un fiio e12 ca si amplificator, o pereche de sennheiser hd800, o pereche de ultrasone signature dj, si de ales intre ie800 si akg k3003, pentru portabilitate.
    Sunt umpic derutat daca sa cumpar fiio e12, sau alt amplificator [imi trebuie neaparat portabil, nu neaparat sa il folosesc portabil, dar trebuie sa il pot cara cu mine, intrun ghiozdan]?..
    Daca ie800 sunt mai bune sau mai slabe decat akg k3003?
    Daca exista vreun DAC portabil mai bun decat x5, care sa se gaseasca in Romania[tot portabil am nevoie]?

  7. Hello!

    I use an E12 since one week. I had not got enough time to test it since then, but I already noticed the sound quality described above. The text is perfect, exactly how I would write. Generally I use a Sony MDR 7506 connected to a Denon AVR-1911. I listen my progressive CDs and many blu-ray shows, generally on DTS and DTS-HD. The question: is the 7506 a good option? I use this headphone since one year and even with the E12 configured for 16dB and bass on I’m not sure the sound quality is really good. Is there any better option? I’m looking for good, not coloured sound.

    What can you say?

    Thanks a lot,

    Luciano

  8. Oh, something is not clear from the text I wrote above. I would like to know if there is a better headphone to match with my receiver and my E12.

    Tks a lot!

    Luciano

    • Hi Luciano,

      Everything was clear from your first post, we just had some days off due to holidays, sorry for my late reply 🙂
      MDR-7506 was a good headphone at that time, however nowadays there are many better quality headphones, sound wise and comfort wise.
      Sony recently released their new high-end headphones called MDR-Z7 (for home use) and MDR-1A (for portable use). Both are closed design headphones and are sounding really nice.
      They both will pair nicely with your E12, that will provide lots of power for your headphones.
      I do recommend to stay on low gain if possible and high volume, higher gain increases the distortion a bit and sounds a bit grainy at times, I like low gain more..
      Happy tunes!

  9. Darku,

    I’ve got two new questions to you. I could test my E12 in many ways since my 1st post.
    1) What other options have I got? The Headphones you have suggested to me are a little bit expensive in Brazil. My reference is the Technics RP DJ 1200. It is the best headphone I could listen to. Its price is not so bad here, and really good Headphones are very hard to find to test them.

    2) up to now I did not notice any audible difference between 0 and 16dB, but the obvious volume level. I had a feeling that at the same volume, with MDR 7506, the basses were better with 16dB with no distortion in all frequencies. Does it depend on the Headphones you are using?

    Tks!

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