Fiio’s Power Pack: The Fiio E12 Mont Blanc

fiio_e12_01


Disclaimer: I received the E12 sample unit from Fiio.

 

With the Fiio E12 amplifier, it’s almost like the chinese company is making a statement that there is nothing they can’t make. From the smallest headphone amplifier (Fiio E2) to the beefiest amplifier from Fiio so far, the E12. They’ve got the hot entry level USB DAC/Amp segment covered with winners like the Fiio E10 and E17. They’ve got an Android portable DAC coming in June (E18). Nothing seems to be stopping Fiio.

The focus today is on the Fiio E12, the latest portable amplifier from Fiio. The last stand-alone headphone amplifier that they made was the E6, and I was expecting the E12 to be an update of the E11 except this time done in a nicer brushed aluminum packaging instead of the pure-plastic E11. Apparently the E12 turned out to be much bigger. The footprint alone is longer than an Ipod Classic and is wider than an Iphone 4/5. Why the change to the bigger form factor? While I can understand the trend for 5″ screens on smartphones, I really don’t want my headphone amplifier to be big unless it’s really necessary.

Turns out that a Hifiman HE-6 driving power is the reason for its size. Straight from its tiny 1/8″ single ended output, the E12 drives the Hifiman HE-6 with punch and authority. Not quite the refinement level of an ALO Rx Mk3B or Portaphile’s 627 amplifier, but they sell for multiple times the price of this Fiio. Bass is tight and punchy, and that alone is perhaps the hardest part to do considering the load that is the HE-6. Mid is full, PRaT is great. Soundstage feels a little narrow and depth is just decent, but again the ability of the Fiio to drive the HE-6 deserves big respect. Treble is a bit unpleasant with the E12 & HE-6 pairing, so I resorted back to the Hifiman HE-400 which I find to be a much more ideal pairing. I guess that extra power is just there for headroom as the HE-400 is easier than the HE-6.

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Sound quality is definitely up from the E11, no confusion there. No more loose bass like on the E11, instead what you get is a tight, well controlled bass that hits hard. Midrange section is full and with a good sparkle. The sound signature is forward and full of PRaT. It’s almost like the Apex Glacier without the Apex’s spacious soundstage. The forward midrange can be a double edged sword though. Often it feels dry and unpleasant, and a smoother upper mid (if Fiio can pull one off in a future batch update — they definitely can, but would they?) would definitely make the E12 work better with a wider range of headphones.

While amplifiers like the CmoyBB and the JDSLabs C421 adds a good amount of space, the Fiio E12 is more about boosting punch and adding PRaT. It’s as if Burson had somehow entered the portable amp market. On another hand, it’s forward and punchy and though not exactly narrow or constricted, is not very spacious or airy. Though not the most transparent or revealing amp I’ve heard, the E12 is definitely the best yet from Fiio in terms of sound quality. From top to bottom everything is presented with good control and articulation.

 

Rough Amplifier Pairing

Where does Fiio’s E12 stand in the headphone amplifier comparison matrix? If we want to be specific, I would say somewhere roughly between the $150 to $250 bracket of amps. In terms of driving hard heavy headphones, the E12 does have a power output comparable to the ALO Rx Mk3B and Portaphile’s 627, though with a level of refinement that’s noticeably below the two higher end amps. It definitely outclasses the majority of sub $100 amps both in terms of power output and clean technicalities. Perhaps a good base of a comparison is with the popular JDSLabs C241 amp where the C421 outclasses the E12 in overall refinement and soundstage image, but the E12 definitely has the upper hand in power output. I’m still waiting for JDSLabs’ C5 to arrive and compare it to the E12.

 

Next page: Extra Features and Headphone Pairings…

Fiio’s Power Pack: The Fiio E12 Mont Blanc 3.67/5 (73.33%) 3 votes

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  • Aleksandar K.

    Hello from Germany. I really enjoyed reading this review. I´m researching a lot and everything leads to the opinion, that the E12 ist the best for my uses. I want to get some extra power out of my AKG K267 Tiesto´s out of portable devices, like my smartphone. Currently an iPhone, but in a few days it will be the Galaxy Note 4. What are your opinion about the Mix of the E12 and the K267?
    Thanks for help.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      Not too familiar with those headphones tbh

  • Alberto Martinez

    Hi Mike, thanks for all of these fantastic reviews, and

    sorry after reading all comments I don’t know if my question is answered (sorry if so, please indicate to me where I can see it).
    At home PC Windows 7 or iPad mini -> DAC Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 -> Schiit Asgard 2 -> Senn HD600; and I am very happy listening Rock and Jazz through Spotify 320kbps and FLAC HD
    When traveling iPad mini -> DAC Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 -> Senn PX-100II and very happy too, but sometime I want to carry my HD600 so, which option do you suggest for portable headphone amp, E12 Montblanc or JDSLabs CMOYBB for this:
    iPad mini -> DAC Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 -> E12 or JDSLabs -> Senn HD600?

    Any other portable headamp under $150-200?
    Thanks a lot.

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      The E12 should be great with the HD600. It should also be more reliable and rugged for travel.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      Yup, E12 or the C5

  • Nickjan Glas

    hello everyone.
    I have been using this amp now for a couple months and I like to share my impressions.

    I find the details very nice for such a low cost amp. Just been doing some golden ears training with the meridian explorer and after switching to the e12 as amp instead of the meridian internal amp, difficult to hear nuances suddenly were easy to distinguish. Especially the bass extension was very good and the higher frequency extensions were improved aswell.

    That said, the mentioned forward midrange and the IMHO small soundstage (especially with crossfeed on) I find the biggest disadvantages with this amp (disregarding its low price in this respect). The meridian (my only comparable amp at the moment) is warmer and much easier to listen to.
    All in all I like it most with top40 kind of pop music and least with classical, but this my be also because of the headphone pairing (B&O H6). All in all I find it to be a great low budget addition to my iPod. (with LOD).

    In February I will get the slightly more expensive meijer corda quickstep and I have high expectations for that one. Also I ll be receiving the fiio X1.

    With the corda classic at home, I can finally start doing some extensive listening and comparing. And then….. new headphone….

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      Keep us posted Nick. The E12 is mostly a power package and ok for it’s price sound wise. It does manage to drive a lot of headphones though and it has earned its medals. The E12A for IEMs is much more musical in the midrange section and has a wider sound stage

      • Nickjan Glas

        I’ll do that. I have to wait until february unfortunately and be patient, but then I ll be doing some extensive burning in and listening!

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      A self-powered amp should sound a lot different than the “amp” that’s part of a DAC that gets all of its power from the USB line.

      • Nickjan Glas

        That’s what I am learning indeed and that’s where the quickstep is going to come in for my pc set-up (together with being the fiio x1 amp). Despite being an integrated usb powered Amp, I do like the meridian a lot.

  • Marko Icelic

    Nice job on the review! I have this E12, with ipod nano 7 and AKG K 391nc. I was planning on Sennheiser hd 558 or 598? What do you think of investment and which is better?
    Also, when time comes, I’ll switch from ipod to Fiio x5!
    Greetings from Serbia Mike!