Disclaimer: I received free E7K and E9K samples from Fiio. Fiio is also a Headfonia sponsor.
The amplifier docking concept introduced in the Fiio E7/E9 pairing has been re-introduced as the E7K/E9K combo. Where the E7K received a facelift that makes it a better looking unit than the predecessor, the E9K’s upgrade is more in the functionalities. What’s important to note is that with the updates, come improvements in sound quality.
I wasn’t so excited about either Fiio when I received the sample units from Fiio. The E7K facelift is nice, but behind that huge glass panel is actually the same tiny LCD found in the original E7. It looks nice, but there are other products that exictes me more than the two Fiios, so I really didn’t talk about them much. During the last few weeks that I’m starting to use them, however, I discovered that these two totally hit the jackpot in terms of sound. I don’t know how Fiio was able to get the sound signature exactly how I like it, but they did. The spacious, warm, full mids & lows I love so much on the Fiio E10 DAC/Amp has been reinvented with better technicalities on the E7K and with better power and impact on the E9K. The E7K & E9K pairing is like the E10 upgraded two levels up.
The E7K by itself is so good I am starting to recommend it over the more expensive E17 (more detailed comparison down below). The E7K/E9K combo, together, forms the best DAC/Amp partnership I know under $300. On one hand I always warn people whenever I recommend people products from Headfonia sponsors (please check on and compare other reviews), but on the other hand I won’t deny that the E7K/E9K blew me away for their smooth clean sound, black background and musicality. I’m truly excited by the sound of these two, even more than the recently released E12 amplifier.
Fiio E7K “Andes”
The improvements that Fiio implemented on the E07 is seriously going to eat into the market of the E10 and the E17. The revenue is ultimately still going into Fiio’s own pocket, but what’s important is how the E07K, available for $89 at Amazon.com, further strengthens Fiio’s dominance in the lucrative $100 USB DAC/Amp market.
The E10 was a huge hit, and both me and Lieven love it. We made lots and lots of recommendations for the E10. With the E07K, however, that recommendation is bound to change as I no longer listen to the E10 after having compared the two. The sound of the E7K is cleaner with less noise, just as smooth, and with a blacker background. Musicality on the E07K sounds just every bit as good as the E10, while the E07K adds a bonus of a better bass control (the E10 has always been a bit loose on the bass).
Likewise with the more expensive E17 ($89 vs $139), I find the E07K makes for a perfectly fine substitute to the E17. Other than the fact that the E17 comes with a more complete set of digital inputs (the addition of Coaxial and Toslink inputs), and higher power output level, I find the sound quality to be comparable. The E17 has a more powerful bass punch and is a bit livelier (or brighter depending on how you look at it) treble, but I don’t really see the E17 being superior in any technicalities. In comparison the E07 is flatter on the treble and does work better for headphone with treble peaks (surprisingly I enjoy the $1,000 IE800 on the E07K far more than on any other amp/sources). My ears do favor darker sound signatures so it’s understandable that I prefer the E07K, but the bottom line is that I’m hearing the same level of technicalities from the two units.
If you’re going to be driving HE-400s and LCD-2s out of these, then the E17 is a better choice due to the more powerful amplifier section, but if dynamics headphone are your game, then there is no need to go with the pricier E17.
The Fiio E9K “Qogir”
I never really consult Fiio on how they should tune their audio products, but they really got this one right for my ears. Gone are the thin midrange sound of the old E9, replaced with a much beefier sound with a good midrange and low end body. Treble is smoother and more relaxed, and the sound is overall significantly warmer. On the functionality side, I very much appreciate the integrated power switch that turns on/off the E07K docked on the E09K (thank you for making that happen, Fiio!).
The tonality is a bit to the dark side, the way I like it these days, and the sound is extremely smooth, even smoother than the Schiit Asgard I’ve been recommending as an entry level desktop amp. Docked together with the E7K, it may not look as classy as say a Schiit Asgard, but I would go for the Fiio for the sound quality alone. Not to mention that for roughly $200 you have a pretty potent USB DAC (E07K) thrown in to the package. It also plays well with better quality DACs like the Dacport LX.
With or without the E07, the E9K is still a great amp for the money. So good the E9K is, I can really see it eating into the Schiit Asgard’s market. The Asgard still has the better build quality and overall design IMO, but would I pay $250 more that?
The buzz on these updated Fiios are quite low. Some reasons I can think of: no new technology being introduced, no impressive power output numbers, no ESS Sabre chips being used. Even I seem to unconsciously choose to work on other reviews before finally deciding to do these Fiios.
On the other hand Schiit really knows how to launch products and their new Magni & Modi demonstrates that very well. Even as it is only available in US voltage, non-US enthusiasts are still talking about it, eager to somehow get a copy running for their office desktop set up. Unfortunately the Magni & Modi review was done by Julius in the US and I don’t see myself getting a sample from Schiit, so I can’t throw in a comparison. However I have made references to the Asgard and I hope that provides a rough frame of reference.
Nobody gets excited about a revision of a product released some 2 years ago, especially with all the new products hitting the market these days. Instead of re-releasing the E7/E9, Fiio should’ve created a new product model with the improved circuitry of the E7K/E9K. Maybe an entry level desktop amplifier with a built-in DAC, who knows.
Beneath the flat hype, however, these two are the best sounding Fiio product I’ve reviewed and they are going to be the sound quality to beat under $300.