COMPARISONS (vs E7, T3D, JDSLABS CMOY)
The sound quality was quite good, though being mostly similar to the Fiio E7′s amplifier section (the E7 has an onboard DAC in addition to the amp). The E7 was a little more open sounding with a bigger soundstage and livelier treble, where the E11 is darker and fuller on the mids and lows and being smoother sounding overall. The most significant improvement come with the overall power output of the E11, where it clearly beat the E7′s fairly limited voltage swing.
Compared to the Ibasso T3D, the Fiio E11 again comes out as being darker and bassier sounding of the two, where the T3D had a fuller midrange and a more sparkly lower treble. Soundstage width is narrower on the T3D, but the T3D clearly has a much better depth and a cleaner separation than both the Fiio E11 and E7. Perhaps the killing blow on the T3D is the recessed vocal presentation which kills the presence on a lot of Rock & Pop recordings.
I also compared the E11 to the JDSLabs Cmoy (stock configuration) and found the JDSLabs to sound significantly bigger and grander, both in the soundstage and the overall sound presentation. The JDSLabs also had a smoother sound throughout the frequency range and is clearly my favorite of the bunch, except when I need to drive the monstrous HE-500 headphone, in which the E11 is the only one that can do the job. Many amp builders swear by the quality of through the hole parts when compared to SMD ones, and in this case I think it’s what’s contributing to the overall bigger and smoother sound of the JDSLabs, despite being based on a much simpler design when compared to the E11′s three-channel design.
LOW/HIGH POWER SWITCH
Between the low and high power switch, I’m getting a smoother sound (especially on the midrange) with the switch on high power. It’s quite noticeable on the HD800, and less so on the JH16Pro. However, as the difference is quite slight, I’d probably recommend using the low power setting to conserve battery life.
How the E11 manages to drive the HE-500 out of that tiny 3.7V mobile phone battery is beyond me, but I just love taking the pairing to meets and see people’s impression as they are listening to the HE-500 being driven from this tiny amplifier. I begin to think about running some pseudo-balanced set up (balanced amplifier without balanced signals, using ground signal to feed the inverting amplifiers) with the E11 and see if it can drive the HE-6 with the authority of some of the bigger amps I’ve used. Crazy idea, but one that is worth exploring.
There are some slight “bugs” while using the E11, such as the inability to use the amplifier while charging. Also, the amplifier refuses to be powered on after the battery has been fully depleted and recharged. I need to “restart” the circuit by taking the battery out and back in. Overall they are minor inconveniences to me, though it would be nice to have them corrected on the newer versions.
At the moment I’m being torn between the JDSLabs Cmoy and the Fiio E11 as the JDSLabs clearly gives me the better sound, but the E11 having the functionality (rechargeable battery, USB charging) and form factor that I want in an amplifier. I think having to change 9V batteries after a few days of use is going to be a big turn off for most users, while the difference in sound quality may not matter as much, depending on the headphone that you’re using. But at the moment, the E11 definitely is my amp of choice when compared to the Ibasso T3D and the Fiio E7.
Gears used for review
Headphones: Fostex TH-7B, Sony ZX700, Sennheiser PX100-II, HD25-1, HD800, JHAudio JH16Pro
Source: Hifiman HM-602, Ipod Classic 120GB
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