FiiO E18 – Android Amp/DAC

FiiO strikes again launching E18 – a DAC and headphone amplifier for PC/MAC and for Android devices.

It is also the first FiiO DAC that doesn’t use the already classic Wolfson WM8740 D/A chip, this time they set on a newly, slightly more advanced chip from Texas Instruments. TI 1798 is used frequently in Hi-Fi components and I consider that it was a welcome change and much appreciated one. The price (approx. 160 Euros) remains also quite competitive for a package that contains an ALPS volume pot, USB interface from Tenor and the Ti BurrBrown 1798 chip I told you a moment ago.

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From the specifications point of view, E18 has the best measurements from all FiiO DAC range, it is also the most powerful headphone amplifier in all FiiO DAC/Amp range. It now offers 300mW in 32 Ohms, as against 220mw of E17. The battery suffered some positive changes too, it is now double compared to E17 and triple compared to E07K. The reason is not only that of using it much more time without being charged, but also because it also can be used as an external battery charger for your phone!

This device has two micro USB ports, one to be used as a DAC for your phone or PC and the second port for charging your phone. I think this is a welcomed feature and those that are on the streets all the time, will appreciate it a lot.

Battery level can be checked using the 3 leds on front (L, M, H)

Although I noticed that it works with some smartphones, I used it only coupled at my PC, running Foobar2000 software player.

This little guy has 3 dedicated buttons on its side for play/pause, forward and backward that worked great on Foobar2000, I didn’t even need to move the mouse to change a song or to put a pause. It is also present a gain switch for efficient and not so efficient headphones and a bass boost switch.

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Sound performance:

After it was tested and compared with E17, I can say that it is the true follower of his elders. At this moment it is the device that offers best detail retrieval and most airy sound from all FiiO range of products. Likewise it has the fastest sound, transients and attack are on another level, on a better one. Should be noted the fact that the blurriness that I heard and noted in my E07K and E17 reviews is gone on E18. That veil between the listener and music was lifted and I can only salute with joy this change.

Presentation of microdetails it is more evident on E18 than on other FiiO devices. The sound is more sinewy also, having a better and stronger kick, a more controlled and articulated sound. As a comparison E17 seems a little bit slower and less refined sounding.

The added power is really appreciated, I listened almost all the time with the device powering the huge Audeze LCD-3 headphones and the end result was quite good. New album Pink Martini – Get Happy sounded airy, having a deep and wide stage, and almost every note sounded as having its own space, words that I couldn’t say loudly about E17.

E18 seems like an evolution of the old Fiio sound. Probably it is the first FiiO that doesn’t sound really warm and dark. The sound is more balanced now, more Hi-Fi, it is more technical and precise. Who wants a drop more warmth I recommend using the bass boost switch, I used it almost 80% of the time and I like it On. Because E18 has faster transients than other FiiO devices, everything sounds faster now, notes are better defined, having a more outlined sound. Background is certainly blacker and there is more air between notes.

Bass notes has a more precise attack, rock and electronica is delicious as ever. Bass depth is identical to E17, I’m glad that engineers didn’t change that.

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Big change was on how mids and voices played. Although E17 was great of those, mids were always in a direct contact with bass notes, lows passing over mids and the other way, mids taking over bass notes. Right now on newest device I have an impression that mids aren’t washing other frequencies and bass is not predominant. Voices are clearer, string vibrations are more precise and better defined.

Tone is not as fat and meaty, how it is on E17, but it’s more real and life like in some way. E17 and E07K seems like having a little bit more distortion levels, indirectly sounding more musical to our ears.

E18 is far from being sibilant, dry sounding and colorless, it is more linear and real sounding. On E17 everything sounds syrupy, full of substance as even classic music has deep bass, E18 does not do this. When it is called for, bass appears from nowhere , when it is not needed, it vanishes away. E18 has a more balanced sound and it’s my new personal favourite DAC from FiiO.

Speaking a bit about dimensions and feeling, it is quite big, slightly longer than E12 and about 3 cm longer than E17/E07K. Construction quality it’s on par with other FiiO devices, the finishing being excellent for this price range.

In conclusion:

E18 is a portable DAC, it’s a portable headphone amp, it’s an external battery for Android devices and a S/PDIF interface having a coaxial output that connects to a receiver or to a better DAC.

Newest approach from FiiO it’s much appreciated, sound improvement is evident: more audible information, realism and more airy sound are to our liking, extra transients being the icing on the cake.

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Additional comments by Savu:

Lacking tablets or Android smartphones I borrowed for a short period of time a Samsung Galaxy S3 from a friend. I connected E18 with the OTG cable from the box and surprize! It was recognized by the phone instantly as an external audio device, being practically a plug-and-play device. I have listened for few minutes, didn’t have a lot of time using a friends phone, but did a cool test on Sennheiser Momentum headphones. Connected directly to the phone Momentum lacked vividness and colour, sounded lifeless, details were washed out with an exaggerated, uncontrolled bass. Good things brought by E18 were bigger than I anticipated, the sound gained life, slightly woofer like bass specific to Momentum headphones was tamed and sounded more controlled and precise. The amount of information transmitted to my ear drums was on another level. E18 transforms an ordinary smartphone into a full fledged audiophile player, an excellent performance.

I can only envy Android smartphone users and I hope that someday we will see a equivalent for iOS devices.

Bravo FiiO!

Pros:

-          Solid construction, lots of accessories

-          Good variety of features compared to classic DAC/Amp devices

-          Works with PC/MAC as well with Android

-          Airy sound, well defined, contoured

-          Speeder of FiiO devices – good attack, transients and kick

-          Excellent for the price paid, I think it’s the first all-in-one device of this kind

Cons:

-          DNA of FiiO sound is slightly altered (can be also a pro)

-          Lack of a display

-          Case is not on par with that found on E12

Equipment used for review:

FiiO E18, E17, E07K, Audeze LCD-3, Sennheiser Amperior, Ultimate Sound 3D, Audiobyte Hydra-X, Burson Conductor

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