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.

fiio_e12_02

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…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1250923044 George Lai

    Hi Mike. Though I have both the e10 and e11, I’m still very tempted by this one. Two questions: 1. what (replaceable?) battery does it use? 2. Would it pair well with the Senn HD600 and Philips X1 for rock? Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      For the HD600 and X1 I would still prefer the ALO national.

      It’s a matter of synergy really. Primarily what I’m looking for is a smooth mids with the HD600 and X1.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1250923044 George Lai

        Thanks Mike. But what would you recommend closer to the e12′s price? The ALO is a lot more expensive.

        • Trent_D

          The cMoy or the C421 would work well with the HD600.

          • http://www.facebook.com/imackler Isaiah Mackler

            Personally, I thought the HD600 was much better with the E12 than the C421. Its not the perfect pairing, but for a fraction of the price, I’d pick the E12 w/ the HD600 over the National, too. If the National were to cost $200, I think it would be a tougher choice. Really, wish Mike could review the Soundlab V.3. I thought it was as good as the National and better than the E12 w/ the HD600.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Thanks Isaiah, will look into the Soundlab V3.

      • Eu Jin

        Hey Mike talking bout the ALO National have you got your hands on the new International? Would hope that you can do a review on it. I’m not sure whether both have the same amp circuits or not.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      As for the battery I haven’t checked but I will try to open it later or tomorrow.

  • Florian GERARD

    Hello
    What about hd650 pairing? Thks that a perfect review as i was considering to buy it this month :-)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Florian,
      I didn’t enjoy it with the HD650.

      • Florian GERARD

        Thanks

      • http://www.facebook.com/neill.martin1 Neill Martin

        which amp would you recommend for HD650 In similar price range? Or is it Graham Slee or nothing! :D

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Portable or desktop?

  • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

    Hey Mike, great review!! One question, would you consider the E17 to be a better amplifier than this one since it focuses more on bass, power, and PRaT?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      No, not really. If you’re looking at the E17 you should wait for my E07K review coming up next week which I think is going to seriously eat into the E17′s market.

      • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

        Very interesting… I will still tuned as always then. :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes keep in tune :)

  • Carlo Maria Sivo

    Try it with AKG K550. What do you think?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I did write about the pairing with the K550.

  • http://www.facebook.com/imackler Isaiah Mackler

    I think you sum it up well when you said it has a classic solid state feel to the E12. Thanks for the review!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Isaiah!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nielven-Olis/621926626 Nielven Olis

    what do you guys use as a reference headphone/amp when you describe the amp as “Midrange section is full and with a good sparkle. The sound signature is forward”? I am worried this will be a colored amp since I am very much interested in a neutral amp like magni(although it added a bit of treble using Shure 1840 everything else sounded the way it should) but with portablity and power.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nielven,
      No particular amp that I’m referencing to, just based on my experience with the other amps in the market. It’s definitely not a dark amp or a laid back one.

      I am afraid I have no experience with the Magni (Julius did the Magni review) so I can’t really say, but if you’re afraid that this amp would add more treble to your Shure than what you really want, I think you should look into the Matrix Mini Portable though it sells for considerably more than the E12.

      http://www.headfonia.com/the-320-portable-dacamp-matrix-mini-portable/

  • Guest

    how does the E12 compare to the O2?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry I haven’t done that comparison.

  • Guest

    How’s it with the Q701?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It should powe the Q701 just fine but I haven’t had the chance to try it personally with the Q701.

  • Magnus

    I record music and have a Focusrite soundcard like this, http://global.focusrite.com/usb-audio-interfaces/scarlett-2i2
    Will i benefit anything from getting a small amp for my headphones? I currently use a pair of Sennheiser HD598 but will upgrade soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/papoomv Papoom Vibhatasilpin

    Hi Mike. What Do you think about use Fiio E10 line out to E12?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sure yes that would be nice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1705466507 Jack Knight

    hi mike, do you think beyer dt770/250 is a good pair with E12?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I’m not really an expert in amp pairings for the 770-250 but I think it can be a good amp, yes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.bourbon Thomas Bourbon

    Hi Mike, have you tried it with an HD25-1 II ? Was it any good ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      No actually I haven’t tried it with an HD25-1. Sorry I just sold my HD25-1 last month.

      • John123John

        Gasp!!! Replaced by….?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well it wasn’t like that. A good friend came by and desperately wanted an HD25-1. I couldn’t say no.

          Besides the UE9000 and Fidelio L1 are really nice I haven’t really missed the Sennheiser.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

    E12 vs Magni ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      No Magni for me. Sorry.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

        So the E12′s better (SQ) ?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          No, I meant that I don’t have any Magni around to listen and compare.

          • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

            ah.. never mind the magni, it works only 115v …(

  • Asrona

    will it work good with my Sennheiser addidas, 25 hd? I need more punchier deep bass. Also i think the sound is flat. Need more soundstage. I bought these headphones, it is very expensive.. so i would try to make the most out of it.. hope you guys can help.

    • dalethorn

      What is your source?

      • Asrona

        macbook pro.. i did a little research myself. it turns out i don’t need an amp. Because of the low impediance i guess. Maybe i need a dac and not the e12.. maybe.

        • Trent_D

          The HD25 is not known for its soundstage. An amp could help with the bass though.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think you just described the HD25-1s character. It would be quite hard to change that to be honest.

      • Asrona

        yeah. You are right. I just have to adapt my ears to this “forward” sound. No depth.. not much i can do.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          It works well for Rock, better than a lot of other headphones with bigger soundstage. Sometimes bigger soundstage doesn’t always mean a good thing. The old AKG K501 has a monstrous soundstage but it doesn’t have anywhere close to the energy and PRaT of the HD25-1.

          • Asrona

            Sometimes it is actually good, works well on certian music genres. You are right on that point, i like the clean tight sound of the HD25-1. To be honest, I am pretty grateful for these cans, but i also have in my mind that i want something over the top headphones. I don’t feel that with my HD25-1. or maybe i am just naive..

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              No you’re right, the 25-1 does have shortcomings

  • http://www.facebook.com/neill.martin1 Neill Martin

    Hi Mike, can you recommend good, cheap portable amp I can use in laptop to drive my senheisser 650s. I’ve sold my Graham Slee diamond Solo as needed money for AV amp. What about fiio e7/E9?

    Thanks

    • Trent_D

      There will be a guest review coming up that answers this, but to give you a preview, there is no better, cheap amp for the HD650 than the JDSlabs cMoy.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        There will be?

        • Trent_D

          You know, I heard their might be.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Neill
      The $60 Cmoy from JDSLabs is extremely good for the 650 for the price.

  • Ardy Ar

    Mike,I’m looking for an amp to go with my Beyer DT880-600 phones.90% usage in a main system with a Cambridge 840A CD player,10% portable with an Ipod.I saw your write up on the new E7/E9 pairing,and this article.Which would suit my needs better?Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I would recommend the E7K+E9K over the E12.

  • Rachit

    Out of curiosity, how does this drive the HE-500?

  • http://www.facebook.com/vaughan.elphick Vaughan Elphick

    How does this compare to the FiiO E17? I have it, and found it faulty, when it worked it was brilliant, but after a few weeks things have started to go wrong with it (but its not common as everywhere I have read this has not happened which shows its an isolated issue at least) but I’m wondering if sent back and found faulty and given the option to pay the difference is the Mont Blanc E12 an upgrade or downgrade from the E17?

    Thanks in advance :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Vaughan,
      Primarily, the difference is in sound signature. The Mont Blanc is more forward, punchier bass, faster pace amp.
      The E17 is less forward, less power, but smoother and more refined sound, better atmosphere.

      • http://www.facebook.com/vaughan.elphick Vaughan Elphick

        Interesting, thanks heaps for that :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome

    • ExpectationGap

      I been paring a FiiO E17 with Ultrasone Pro900′s, and for the most part, was pretty happy with the setup (loved the ability to custom adjust gain, bass, and treble). However, I recently purchased an E12 just to see if it could provide a better level of bass control than the E17. Running the Mont Blanc with gain 16db, bass on, cross-feed off… I’m getting great results. Bass is tighter & features clean decay; it feels like going from a ported to a sealed-enclosure sub. The increase in power seems to expose more midrange even at lower volumes (scooped mids are a common complaint with the pro 900s).

      With the E17 – I was constantly adjusting the gain/bass/treble – always looking for the right fit. With the E12, I just set it, forget it, and enjoy the experience. The price difference between the two is negligible, if you have the chance to try them side-by-side I’d encourage it – as the differences (though partly subjective) are quite noticeable. For me, the E12 is a much better performer and coaxes more musicality out of the pro 900′s than the E17.

      *I should mention that I have one of the late April/early-May E12 models with the new bass-control. I believe that Mike’s review was written with an earlier version of the Mont Blanc.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Good to hear that you’re getting good sound from the set up

  • Keith

    Hey Mike !
    Can you tell me the specifics in terms of pairing it with the LCD-2′s?
    Interested in this amplifier, but must give myself a reason to buy it :D
    Thanks bud!

    • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

      From the review “Strangely though it powers the Audez’e LCD-2 and Fostex T50RP (and its
      derivatives like the Mad Dog headphone) just fine, I didn’t feel the
      synergy to be there.”

  • dalethorn

    I finally ordered one of these E12s. I’ll be comparing it to the PA2V2, the Microstreamer, Audioengine D1, and Dragonfly mini-DACs, and the new v-moda verza. My E17 has gone off to a new user, so I won’t be able to make that comparison, except from memory.

    • George Lai

      Hi Dale. I look forward to your review. I tested an e12 at a shop and noticed that the high gain was +16 DB. I guess Mike’s +10 in the article was a misprint (or time for some new specs, Mike). It’s a pity I didn’t have my e11 at the shop with me to do a comparison.

      • dalethorn

        I haven’t put together a formal review yet, but it won’t have the depth of detail you see here. I’ll just do a compare to the low-priced PA2V2, and also the DAC/amp for i-devices, the v-moda verza. The verza is an unfair comparison of course, but I need to frame the features against known items higher and lower on the scale. Like the review here says, it’s a good clean portable amp that sounds great with WAV tracks, not as good with 320k CBR MP3s that I convert from my own WAV tracks. I was surprised how much difference this amp reveals between those WAV and MP3 tracks, but that depends on some things — how good the WAV track is, and how your source is connected – in my case from the ipod touch LOD. The other little surprise was the bass – playing with the bass switch OFF, I hear slightly better detail and impact than from my PA2V2, although the PA2V2 sounds as extended on the top end. Then the E12 controls boominess better than the PA2V2 – I have some tracks by Diana Krall from the Live in Paris concert circa 2002 that are quite boomy and the E12 makes them better.

        • dalethorn

          I put a review on Amazon for the E12. Nice amp.

          • George Lai

            Nice review.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1705466507 Jack Knight

    how fiio e12 compared to ALO national?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The ALO National is more laid back, smoother, bigger sound, and has a better bass body and impact.

  • http://www.facebook.com/minhhoang1192004 Minh Hoang Nguyen

    Hi guy, how fiio e12 pair with dt880 600ohms ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Should be very easy to drive the Beyer with the Fiio. However I suggest getting a warmer amp like Fiio’s E7K

  • benbenkr

    E09k vs the E12, which is the better pick? Portability isn’t an issue, as I will use this primarily at home.

    Also, does the E12 have any noticeable EMI as was reported by a few?

  • Pandale81

    Hi! How about mixing B&W’s P’5 with this Fiio E12 (iPod Classic 160gb source) Thanx a lot!! Good reviews around here!!

    • dalethorn

      My personal opinion is the E12 would make the P5′s soft treble a little too dark, although it might be good for the bass.

      • Pandale81

        Thax for the replay!! Any advice about the best dac for the P5? Thanks a lot

        • dalethorn

          When the source is a 160gb iPod, the only DACs that would work (I think) are Apple i-device DACs like the v-moda Verza or Fostex HP-P1. But if you want an amp to use with the iPod that can also be a desktop DAC, the E07k or E17 would work.

          • Pandale81

            Thank you much for your advices. My personal opinion is P5′s are a little dissapointing when you use them with the iPod. I’m not an audiophile but I always look for the best in “amateur” level. Maybe I made a mistake no taking the Bose’s QC15 but after spending 300€ in P5′s I think I have to use them until I get tired at all. Thanks

            • dalethorn

              The P5 is a great headphone, and the unique design it has makes it that much better. And it has very good isolation, so it’s actually a good value I think. But, sometimes you could match a headphone that doesn’t have enough treble or bass with an amp that also doesn’t have enough treble or bass, and when both occur together, it can make the sound too thin or too soft. In the case of the P5, I think the best amps for a reasonable price are the E07k and E17, and the fact that you can also use them as a computer USB DAC. Those amps will be a good match for the treble, but even if they improve the P5′s bass compared to using the iPod alone, there will be better choices for bass when you’re ready to spend for a much more expensive DAC plus amp.

              • Pandale81

                Nice advice! I’ll think about it and I’ll tell you my opinion if I buy one of those. See ya!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      P5 doesn’t need amping, I’d just use it direct.

      Thanks!

  • http://nasihsaifullah.com Nasih

    hye. Would E12 pair well with Goldring DR150? My source is an Asus laptop, having a UD100 USB DAC.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I’d go for the E07K for the Goldring. Both as an amp and DAC.

  • Jean Charles

    JDSlabs cMoy or this for the HD650? I’m curious to try SS..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Cmoy

      • Jean Charles

        Thanks Mike

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome Jean. :)

  • Mark Kirwan

    Great review! I was curious as to how well the E12 would work with Ultrasone Pro 900s as I am shopping for myself for christmas. I have been interested in getting into audio equipment and I decided to start out with the Pro 900s paired with the E12, hoping I didn’t make a mistake! Also, the source of music will be primarily from my iphone 5 and/or laptop. Thanks!

  • Mike B

    Very good review Mike! – I have recently bough a pair of Denon AH-D600, which are fantastic phones especially at their lower price! – now I’m looking for nice portable amp – amp/dac up to 100 pounds – unfortunately options are slightly limited here in the UK… I’m just wondering if i should go with the E12 , E17 or maybe Epiphany EPH-O2 all 3 share the same price tag… My source is an Ipod classic
    Any suggestions much appriciated! Thanks

  • Wong

    E12 will make good pair with SR80i? Need some suggest for a portable amp :)

    • dalethorn

      To connect an iphone?