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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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
– 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
I’m a basshead, I like listening to hiphop, rnb, trance, chillout and classic rock. I’m currently using an HTC One and a pair of AKG K518s/Sennheiser 598s. Will using the Fiio E18 bump up the bass response of these two headphones without turning up the volume to deafening noise?
I’m an audio noob, thank you for any replies
[…] http://soundnews.ro/2013/12/02/8653/ […]
First of all, it is a good basic device, no gimmicks, but no facilities either! sound is the best in Fiio range,
it has a major flaw, which is forcing me to send it back for a refund. Some bright spark at Fiio decided that a 2 inch USB cable is all you need to connect the device to your mobile device!
What The F***!
E18 even has remote buttons for next track, last track , play/Pause , what for when the phone is only 2 inches away??
You can not handle either device (phone or Amp) in such close proximity of each other. Fiio’s wonderful suggestion, strap the two together! I don’t want a strap in the middle of my touch screen – does anybody?
Until or unless Fiio comes up with a three foot cable, to allow me to put my phone in one pocket and the amp in my shirt pocket, where I can get to it, listen to my music, and have basic control over my tracks, this device is almost useless as a mobile device.
It is only good for connecting to a laptop or a PC.
I want my money back!
Ehmm buy a longer cable?
This is the most petty complaint I have ever heard.
The supplied micro USB cables cover most situations in which you would mount the FiiO to your smartphone. The hardware controls are great if you don’t want to have to turn on your smartphone screen to control your music. This is great in the car because you don’t have to fiddle with the screen and look away, the buttons are just right there.
Hi guys, great review as usual.
I’m wondering, how does it compare with Audioquest Dragonfly as a dac, in terms of realism, detail and sound body definition?
I have this paired up to a Moto G on kikkat and it works perfectly. Listening through Soundmagic E10’s and also AKG 550’s. I am blown away by how good a performance i get out of all three.
The E18 delivers clarity and a nice completeness over the the whole range.
Unfortunately I get feedback on Moto G through the right ear when wifi is switched on. However this is not present when connected to my ipod touch.
I am glad I bought this.
Sorry for missing for a long-ish time.
I’am a dad for 1 month now, didn’t know it will be so difficult and time consuming 🙂
@Xiao – using the bass boost switch you will get a deeper bass, without touching the mids, I really like the bass switch. However it is not adding A LOT of bass, personally I like it how it is. It is not only about the bass. Connected to HTC One, you will get a cleaner, more precise sound, more of everything, including a better bass.
@Ken Tajalli – I understand your frustration, but a longer cable should solve the problem.
@Cosmin – I don’t have a Dragonfly right now to compare with E18, but overall E18 has almost the same DAC part, having the same tehnicialities, however E18 wins hands down on the amplifier part. It is just a lot more powerfull.
Savu has both a Dragonfly and a E18, maybe he can answer your question better than me.
@Jnr Vasquez – I’m happy to hear that you like this small device as I do 🙂
Did you try a longer USB cable, did your smartphone touches the E1?, if yes, maybe you should put something between the two. On Galaxy S4 I get zero noise with Wi-Fi on.
Hi! Will the DAC help increase the volume levels of an android smartphone? Andoid phones are not know to have above average volume levels especially with headphones. This is a nice and detailed review for the E18. Thanks!
YES, sure, it will be increased like 4 times more, at that is because a better and more powerful headphone amplifier is used inside.
Great review, but one question.
I use the Xperia Z Ultra „Sound Enhancement’ options to find tune the EQ for my MDR-X10. If I use this DAC, do you think the Xperia eq features will still work or not any more?
Hard to tell, I think (but i dont know) it will not work, because your phone will became a transport to the DAC inside the E18. Basicaly your phone will carry the digital signal to the E18, and E18 will decode that signal and will amplify it. EQ is used on the analog signal, it means that signal is already decoded, only after that EQ can be applied.
But fear not, E18 is better sounding than your phone, it will surely sound more detailed and spacious, and if you ever need a deeper bass you can use the bass boost feature.
Thanks for the reply!
I am considering more the E17 now because of the Treble/bass adjustments compared to the more limited E18 settings.
Do you think that will be a mistake?
I personally do not use at all any adjustments as I like the music to be played exactly how mastering engineer wanted, so no EQ or other sound enhancements for me 🙂
But yeah, you you like them go for E17. One more small thing, I like the E18 a little bit more than E17, mainly because it sounds airier and more detailed it’s also less warm but I don’t mind that.
Gabriel, I am using Z Ultra too. Z Ultra and E18 can be paired with in a perfect manner. Equalizer and volume control can still be used from Z Ultra. In Contrast when I use E18 with my Meizu MX4 equalizer and volume control become absent.
I have to say, though, that with Z Ultra I prefer to use E18 as an AMP rather than a DAC, reason being that I like Z Ultra’s sound signature so much that I do not want to alter it. As E18 is a very clean AMP, it brings forth the best quality in Z Ultra. The original sound signature of Z Ultra remains (dark, punchy bass, big and impactful sound, quite raw and organic), yet more detailed are revealed. Instrumental separation just got better. As I am more inclined to dark and big sound signature, I feel that E18’s signature is just a bit too airy, transient, and fast for me.
Hi, thanx for a great review. I personally agree with you on everything. The only con I find is that when I plug the E18 via the USB plug to my MacBook the sound on the headphones get really distorted. This does not happen when I plug it through the 3.5mm jack but this is not really the solution because in this manner I’m not able to control playback through the E18s buttons.
I purchased a one plus 2 last month and wanted to enhance my music experience with sony-xb90…does it gonna work..or i had more better option now
I agree with the review outcome: you just can’t observe the separation of instruments especially in the higher frequencies of the sound spectrum – I guess this is has to do more with the DAC rendition than with amplifier buffer/driver stage. I think now there is a cable/transceiver from Lighting to MicroUSB so that idevices can be connected „plug and play”.
I need an OUTBOARD DAC with Digital OUT for my Acurus ACD11 CD Player. I already have a FIIO E17 Alpin with the WM8740 DAC chip and TONE CONTROLS which is perfect for an IPHONE 6S or my LapTop but a big NO NO for my Home Stereo.
Since I only paid $166.00 for my near mint Acurus ACD 11, it doesn’t make sense to pay double the price for an OUTBOARD DAC on a 20 year old technology. So, I’m kinda looking a a cheap OUTBOARD (Non Headphone Amp) DAC, perhaps a Shiit Audio or something. FIIO has a basic unit for 20.00 that goes up to 24/192. Is that a viable unit or a toy?
Please check the FiiO E10K, it will work with your laptop, but not with your phone. It has an micro-USB input, also has a coaxial (digital) out and costs only ~75 USD. For something cheaper you might search on Aliexpress.