Disclaimer. Fiio is a site advertiser and they sent the E11K sample free of charge.
Where to start
Everyone loves Fiio. Just look at their Facebook or check Head-Fi. The Chinese company is known for its budget friendly setups and they are genuinely nice people who really listen to the community. Lately they have even been targeting the high resolution market with their X5 DAP. Today however we take a look at the updated version of their successful E11 amp.
I don’t think there are a lot of people who never heard of the good old Fiio E11. It has been around for as long as I can remember actually. Now it has been discontinued. A said day? No, not for me. Mike always liked the E11 but I never was a big fan. I bought it back in the days to use with my Fischer Audio Eterna Rev. 1 IEMs, but there was no love shared between us. The sound didn’t satisfy me and so I bought an iBasso T3. Again, we didn’t hit it off and I sold that one too.
I have to be honest. I never sold the E11 but I never used it again either. I got it out of storage just for this review and I have to say I might have been a bit harsh for it in the past. Do I love it now? Not really, but it wasn’t that bad either.
A New Generation
The first E11 was quite normal if you looked at it. It had a gain switch and offered two EQ settings. It looked quite cheap as it was made out of plastic. On the positive side it had a replaceable battery and it had a logic lay-out but I’ll get back to that last point. It was light, weighing only 65g and it put out 180mW@32Ohm and you could travel for 10 hours before it stopped working.
The new Fiio E11K aka Kilimanjaro2 has followed the market trends and now comes in a black aluminum case with a bit of plastic on the volume button side. It weighs 92gr and measures 91.2 x 56 x 13.0 mm. It does look a lot better than the E11. The build quality has gone up a level too, making it as good as any other recent Fiio product. It features a gain switch (-3.8db to +11.7db) and Fiio’s famous Bass Boost (+4dB). It does look quite a lot better than the first generation E11.
The E11K uses a 1400mAH battery that takes about 4 hours to charge and it gives you around 16h of musical pleasure in return. It doesn’t come with a self-replaceable battery however. There is a tiny blue LED that goes on when the E11K is in use and it starts blinking slowly when your device is being charged.
I do like how it looks but it do is quite particular. Two things come to mind. First, there is the curved form. Quite annoying if you want to stack it up with your iPhone or DAP like me. I had to put removable little rubber feet on my E11K just to make sure it stays in place and to make sure it didn’t scratch the other gear, the AK120ii in my case. But OK, problem solved. Not the most elegant looking though. Second, the special lay-out. The volume dial is on the other side of the connectors. The E11 did the lay-out right but with the new E11K, Fiio decided to put the volume control on the other side of the device. Now that’s not a huge problem but it will annoy the hell out of a lot of portable stack users.
The E11K uses a dead quiet ALPS volume pot, and I didn’t expect it to be as quiet as it is. One big thing however is the channel imbalance up to 2 on the volume dial. For low volume listeners like me that can get somehow problematic, especially with IEMS. And wasn’t the E11K made especially for that?
The Not So Secret Inside Stuff
Fiio opted for the OPA1642 voltage amp and as current amp they chose the AD8397. Fiio recommends using the E11K with headphones from 16 to 150Ohm, but it has enough power to drive a 300Ohm Senn as well (with lesser results though). Output power of the new E11K is 270mW@32Ω and 450@16Ω, while the output impedance always stays under 0.2.
Didn’t I just say in the Piccolo review that a lot of portable amps get too loud too quick? Well,we have found another one. Volume setting two, in Low Gain, already is way above my comfortable listening level with IEMs. This E11K plays loud!
I started listening with my favorite custom inears from Cosmic Ears, the six driver 6ECE (Impedance: 26 Ohms at 1kHz, Sensitivity: 121dB SPL @ 1mW) and I immediately noticed bad background noise (hiss) immediately after plugging them in and unfortunately it even gets worse when charging the E11K at the same time. At the same time volume never is at 0% with most IEMs, you always hear the music playing softly in the back ground. Like I said before there’s also the channel imbalance issue that is most noticeable with IEMs.
Also, don’t turn on/off your E11K when your IEMS are inside your ears. Pop alert! With full sized cans it is doable but I would not recommend it for your headphone drivers or your ears. Could the E11K really be that bad for IEMs?
When I tried my good old Eternas Rev 1, I couldn’t hear any hiss at all. Alright, that’s good news. RHA 600 and 750, same story: no hiss. Back to a custom 4 driver: small hiss. Custom 1 driver dynamic: No hiss. The new Brainwavz S5 with the horrible cable: no hiss. Others have reported not to hear any hiss at all with the E11K and so I’d dare say the general consensus is the E11K does not hiss, except for with some specific Custom IEMs. I can live with that!
On to the bigger headphones! Click to go to the next page