Fiio E12A: A Great Budget (IEM) Amp

Disclaimer: Fiio is a site advertiser, I received both the E12 and E12A for this review for free.

box HFN Lieven round kader

 

 

 

Fiio

Fiio is one of my favorite brands: they listen to the consumer, they frequently update their product line and they keep launching new products. All that at a very affordable price and with extremely good value for money.

After the E10 and E11 upgrade to their “K” versions, Fiio now released the E12A. The successor of the famous E12 Powerhouse. And I already have the brand new E17K with me for review already. It seems the Fiio people never stop, and that’s exactly why everyone likes them.

The E12A vs The E12

The new E12A shares a lot with the E12 (which is still available) but at the same time it is very different.

One of the most important changes is the switch from the OPA1611 and LME49600 to the MUSES02 and LME49600 opamp combo and the use of metal film resistors. The new E12 weighs 166g and is 8g heavier than the E12, not that you’ll notice that. They have the exact same dimensions (124mm x 65.5mm x 14.5 mm) but the E12A does feature a new button layout. Cross-feed has magically disappeared and the weird recessed gain slider on the E12 is now easily accessible on the front (flick switch). I just would have wished the volume dial was a bit bigger like on the Cypher Labs gear. Oh, and the color is different now too: grey vs black.

The result of this tuning, as you might call it, is a lower impedance of 16-150Ohm (A12 = 16-300)and a power delivery of >420mW (16Ohm) instead of the >880@32Ohm from the original E12. Bass boost now is + 4dB where it was +6dB on the E12. Gain setting has remained the same (+16dB) but the E12A has a lower output current as Fiio calls it.

I always say new gear should at least last for 10 hours with one charge and the E12A even delivers over 20 hours of use after one 3 hour charge. The original E12 with a 880mAh battery, charged under 2 hours but it only lasted for 12 hours. Those are impressive numbers from the new 1500mAh battery.

I can’t really complain about how the E12A looks and feels, sure it’s not the smallest of amps but it fits perfectly with an ipod classic and CLAS SOLO. Build quality is pretty good for this price level but those with an eye for detail will notice the lines of the front plate don’t line up with the side of the amplifier (see pic). It’s the little things.

Sound

Listening to the E12 with any of my customs always results in hiss, and quite a lot of it actually. The new E12A is completely silent and there is no noise whatsoever, not even when turning the volume button. When turning on the amp with your monitors in your ears won’t result in a nasty PLOP sound either. It’s all silent. “IEM heaven” they also call it. Ok, there may be a bit of channel imbalance in the beginning with IEMs but almost all “normal” volume pots have that.

So the E12A is only for IEMs? Oh no, not at all. It’s still very capable of delivering the necessary juice for the more power hungry cans and on top of that it handles your IEMs as it should. Then does it mean the E12 is no longer needed? Not really as it still is better for some full size headphones. I remember Mike running the Hifiman HE-6 out of it…

The range on the volume control is pretty good but even at Low Gain you can expect your music to get loud quickly. Be careful with the dial is my advice.

I’ve reviewed quite a bit of Fiio gear and very often the words “warmer sound” are used in those reviews. With the E12A you won’t catch me saying that. I find the E12A one of Fiio’s most neutral tuned units and I love it, especially when using (custom)IEMS. Then E12A doesn’t sound clinically cold, don’t get me wrong. Maybe it has just a touch of warmth if you look at it that way but it certainly is very different sounding from the E10K and E11K am sections.

One of the Fiio features I always like is the Bass Boost. BB lovers might be a bit disappointed this time round, because the E12A’s bass boost, as I’ve mentioned, now only represents a 4dB boost. That means the over sound of the E12A is more linear than ever before.

In general neither the E12 and E12A will show you the most detail. Their sound stage isn’t the widest or deepest but it isn’t small either. It’s OK and about what you can expect in this price class if I may say so. Especially on the E12 I found the music to be represented in a dryer way. The new E12A’s (mids are) a lot richer and offer a fair amount more detail and musicality. The bass impact and body it had on the E12 isn’t present in the new E12A. The E12A is more about detail.

So the bass on the E12A doesn’t have the body and impact it had on the E12 and it unfortunately didn’t improve much for what detail, tightness and layering are concerned. Bass is still a tad loose but at least it doesn’t run in to the mids. The mids on the E12A are pretty darn good and it’s the strongest point of the amp for me. Sure the more than double costing Picollo sounds even richer but this, in my opinion, is where the E12A really shines. When switching from E12 to E12A these are the two differences that show most. There isn’t that much change in the treble region for that matter. Over all the new 12A is a linear tuned amplifier with easy to enjoy rich mids and inoffensive treble.

More on Sound & other stuff on the next page

Fiio E12A: A Great Budget (IEM) Amp
4 (79.05%) 21 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

64 Comments

  • Reply December 24, 2014

    Chia Zhao Han

    quite some typos. great reading article as usual!

    • Reply December 24, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Thanks, feel free to point them out though

      • Reply December 24, 2014

        Chia Zhao Han

        1. “With the E121 you won’t catch me saying that…”
        2. “I always say new gear should at least last for 10 hours with one charge
        and the E121 even delivers over 20 hours of use after one 3 hour charge…”

        whats E121?

        • Reply December 24, 2014

          Headfonia_L.

          That’s when you type one key to high on your keyboard. 1 vs A
          Thanks! Updated

          • Reply December 24, 2014

            Dreamer2go

            Gain setting has remained the same (+16dB) bit the E12A has a lower output current as Fiio calls it.
            Bit = But?

            Fiio E11K: With a price tag of $59.99 the Fiio E11K offers even more value for money. Result wise however, the A12 is miles ahead of the E11K.

            you mean 12A? E12A?

            I’m sure there are more, but I think it’s a great read nonetheless, but I would suggest proof reading it first!

            • Reply December 24, 2014

              Headfonia_L.

              Corrected, appologies

              • Reply June 25, 2015

                stas

                hey Headfonia_L !. i need help and the quastion is: are my headphones

                >RHA MA750i good for the 12A ? . plz help 🙂

                • Reply June 25, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  What are you going to use with the amp?

                  • Reply June 26, 2015

                    stas

                    my mp3 sony player=12a amp+ RHA ma750i. 🙂

                    • June 26, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      Yes that’s good. And like L says, if you can try the T10 you might like the upgrade. I had the 350 and 750 but haven’t heard the T10 yet.

                    • June 26, 2015

                      stas

                      yeah man i believe that 10t are beter than 750 but the T10 are 80euro more expensiv xD its sucks!. i listen alot of metal muziek like Korn and Mudvayne.. are the 750 good for that kind music? and is that truth that the 750 are the best earphones for 100 dollars?. thx

                    • June 26, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      The 750 is a good deal – very nice IEM, but you will hear some emphasis in the lower treble that can intensify any distortions in the recordings. So there you go – it may be perfect for your music. I have a few Korn tracks myself.

                • Reply June 26, 2015

                  Headfonia_L.

                  Sure, but the T10 is better 😉

                  • Reply November 23, 2015

                    stas

                    hey L . i have RHA t20,sony mp3 and Fiio 12a.. but you said that better if you have also DAC??, did i really need DAc for my fiio 12a ?and if it will make better soundstage whit one should I buy? plz help. waiting for your reply. 🙂

                    • November 24, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      If the Sony has a good DAC then you should be OK as-is. But if you want to buy another external DAC, maybe get one that also has a good amp – better than the FiiO, and does not hiss.

                    • November 24, 2015

                      stas

                      thx but fiio 12A have DAC inside??

                    • November 25, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      I don’t think so. My E12 did not have a DAC, and the change for the E12a was to half the power and a lower noise floor for IEM’s.

      • Reply August 4, 2018

        Indrajit

        I have a Fiio X5iii and a sennheiser hd 598. Between the E12A and E12 which should be a better option as the Hd 598 has high impedance. Would E12A be ideal for Hd 598 or should I look for more powerful amps?

        • Reply August 5, 2018

          Lieven

          It won’t be ideal but it will work

  • Reply December 26, 2014

    digitldlnkwnt

    Good review, noiseless performance with IEMs for the price is really awesome. Sounds like they went the quality v quantity route when selecting the new opamp/platform for the E12A. My impression from this review is you don’t get as much gain or bass boost but the overall sound appears to be more refined across wide range of IEMs/HPs

    • Reply December 26, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      That’s more or less it indeed. Bare power vs refinement & detail

  • Reply December 27, 2014

    Matthew Thomas

    If you were to purchase an amp, which would be the best to buy.

    -Fiio E12A
    -Fiio E17
    -Fiio E 18
    -Fiio E07K
    -Ibasso D-Zero
    -JDSLabs C5

    • Reply December 27, 2014

      dalethorn

      What are the other components you’ll use with it?

      • Reply December 28, 2014

        Matthew Thomas

        Into a laptop to amplify the sound and an Ibasso DX 90. I have Bose headphones.

        • Reply December 28, 2014

          dalethorn

          I’d recommend a USB mini-DAC like the Microstreamer to start with, then if you need more power add an amp like the E12 running from the Microstreamer Line Out. The Microstreamer will drive the Bose OK. There are many USB mini-DACs available, but I’d recommend one with a separate headphone jack and Line Out jack.

          • Reply May 9, 2015

            Dhia Oshaish

            I happen to have the dacmagic xs ( something like the dragonfly dac/amp). I use it to power my X2. For some reason I dont find it powerful enough for the task. I feel the dynamics and punch are not there, and I feel the sound could still be bigger and more effortless. I havent experienced any amps. Do you think I will benefit from this Fiio 12a amp if I hook it up to my dacmagic xs? (Note: the dacmagic xs has no line out).
            Thank you!

            • Reply May 9, 2015

              dalethorn

              It’s not recommended to add an amp to an amp, normally, and Cambridge Audio notes that it’s a 150 mw analog out, so it probably would work but with lower sound quality. The FiiO E12a is more sensitive than the E12, to be useful with IEMs, so that makes things worse. What you should plan to do is wait until you’re ready to get a DAC and amp that work with each other. On the lowest end the FiiO E17k would work good with a computer, then moving up you could get a Schiit combo, and go up from there when you’re ready to spend more.

              • Reply May 9, 2015

                Dhia Oshaish

                Thank you for the detailed answer!

              • Reply May 9, 2015

                Dhia Oshaish

                Sorry! One more question please, a technical one. If I added the Fiio 12a to the dacmagic xs, this would be called double amping and believed to worsen the sound quality. But if I added that Fiio to a phone, like the galaxy s4, this wouldnt be called double amping and thought to improve sound quality. Dont both the dacmagic xs and galaxy s4 have small DAC/Amp chips in there, regardless of quality? How come one is called double amping and the other no?
                Thank you for the answer and sorry for bothering you again!

                • Reply May 9, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  Adding the 12a to any device’s headphone jack is indeed double amping, with the exception of some DACs such as the Dragonfly and a few others, where those DACs (which include a headphone amp**) will change the headphone output to be more external amp-friendly when an external amp is connected. I didn’t see for the XS that it can do that, but who knows? Maybe it will work that way. And even with the cellphone, it may sound better with the amp, but eventually you’ll hear the differences.

                  **In the original Dragonfly release, there were comments to the effect that it didn’t have a ‘real’ headphone amp, just a simple volume booster for the converted analog out. Or something like that – it gets complicated. The point is, it would be better not to lose your investment on an inferior solution unless it doesn’t matter and you can afford to.

                  Don’t forget when you have 2 volume controls in-line, you need to manipulate both to get the best tonality and lowest distortion. Just experiment and listen – you’ll figure it out.

        • Reply December 28, 2014

          Headfonia_L.

          Like Dale says, an amp/dac combo might be better, I recommend the C5D. And new headphones 😉

          • Reply December 28, 2014

            dalethorn

            Yeah, C5D, and definitely a different headphone.

            • Reply December 29, 2014

              Matthew Thomas

              What headphones would be better that aren’t too expensive?

              • Reply December 29, 2014

                dalethorn

                Shure SRH-840 is neutral, comfy, good quality, $200. Unless you have a preference for a different kind of sound.

  • Reply December 28, 2014

    Jort

    Hi guys, did someone already try the new Fiio E12A as well as the new Cayin C5 amp? Reading your reviews they both rock, so the choice is difficult. Which of the two would be your best for HD650 and why?

    • Reply December 28, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      The E12A for HD650 is not really recommended, I’d stick to IEMs. Sure it works but there is better in a desktop amp

      • Reply December 29, 2014

        Jort

        Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately I do not use IEM’s and use the HD650 portable, so my question is still open.

        • Reply December 29, 2014

          dalethorn

          Me personally, I find the 650 to have ample treble energy, and I think the E12 (not the A) would be a good match for that. Another good thing is the extra power to benefit the 650’s power needs.

  • Reply February 21, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Worth paying almost 3x the price of e11k for labs jds c5 ?? The sound difference is huge ?

    • Reply February 21, 2015

      dalethorn

      Which headphone?

      • Reply February 21, 2015

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        Sennheiser Momentum and Fiio x1.

        • Reply February 21, 2015

          dalethorn

          I’d use the FiiO amp then. The X1, E11k, and Momentum are a good match.

          • Reply February 21, 2015

            Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

            Thanks!

  • Reply February 26, 2015

    riodgarp

    I wanna upgrade from my current dac+amp (ibasso d-zero mk1) for pure portable amp which one are recommended e12a or e11k ? note that d-zero made my ipod touch 4th sounds dry in the mid, not suitable for some of my cans (for ex: superlux evo)

    • Reply February 26, 2015

      dalethorn

      You were using the iBasso d-Zero MK1 as DAC-plus-amp for the iPod Touch?

      • Reply February 26, 2015

        riodgarp

        only amp, dac section only with laptop that’s why now I considering a pure portable amp

      • Reply February 27, 2015

        riodgarp

        how to bypassing ipod internal dac ?

        • Reply February 27, 2015

          dalethorn

          With the iPad, you could use any DAC/amp that has Apple-compatible translation of the digital signal, such as the Theorem 720, Beyer A200p, etc. With iPad it’s also possible to use the Apple Camera Kit to use some other DACs, but not all. For iPhones and iPods I suggest to use only the Apple-compatible DACs because, even if the camera kit could work with other DACs, it’s a kludge that’s just a mess, and very questionable due to multiple interfaces that degrade the sound. When you look at the Apple-compatible DACs that are available, you have to look very close because some vendors imply they are compatible when in fact they require the Camera Kit. I don’t know at this point, if you find a genuine Apple-compatible DAC, that it would work with all iPods – it might or not. I haven’t tried any of the iPod Classics.

    • Reply February 26, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      E12A is the better amp, especially for IEMs

      • Reply February 27, 2015

        riodgarp

        isn’t make the mid more dry? I allready tested e12 diy but not impressed . . or maybe I should look for some amp that more warm than d-zero mk1 ?

        • Reply February 27, 2015

          dalethorn

          The new E17k is a good DAC/amp – very good sound, and not dry to me, but then I didn’t think the E12 was dry either. Both are about the same price. The E17k is improved over the older E17.

          • Reply February 27, 2015

            riodgarp

            thanks for reply, and answer on another question too, new question is which one is better at amplification ? note I use ipod touch 4th gen and ruizu x10 (bright)

            • Reply February 27, 2015

              dalethorn

              I would not choose the E17k to amplify for a very inefficient headphone of 600 ohms, or possibly some planars, but for most headphones it will be good. The ruizu MP3 player I have no idea, unless it does not have enough power for your headphone. If the ruizu does not have enough power, you could connect the E17k to the headphone jack and get more amplification that way. Personally, I prefer to use the iPod Touch (64 gb for me) or iPhone 6-plus (128 gb), because I’ll install a number of bit-perfect WAV files on those devices for listening and testing. For most portable use the 320k CBR MP3s are OK, but sometimes when I connect an Apple-compatible DAC I can get the full advantage of the WAV tracks’ better sound.

              • Reply February 27, 2015

                riodgarp

                thanks! I think I could stick to e12a because now I only needed an amplifier, very rarely use computer as media player

          • Reply February 27, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            I still have to publish my E17K but I do find the Amp section dry :/
            I just use it as DAC and take the LO to my A20 amp at the office

            • Reply February 27, 2015

              dalethorn

              I just think as a DAC plus amp, for $139, the value is extremely good.

            • Reply February 28, 2015

              riodgarp

              waiting the review until my money more than enough LoL

  • Reply September 26, 2015

    Destroy Progressives

    I love my klipsch x10s, but the battery on my E11 is horrible. Will the E12A provide a significant upgrade? I do love the bass and gain boost on the E11 (I listen to a lot of metal), but I also see other amps like the iFi nano ican and the E17 which also has DAC capabilities. I listen mostly to my x10s through an ipod classic via Fiio adapter.

  • Reply January 19, 2016

    sulbh

    How does it compare to e11k and c5

    • Reply January 19, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      E11K isn’t my fav amp, it’s also in a lower league as the E12A. Actually the E12A is a very nice IEM amp with very good mids. C5 is also very good but is not only an IEM amp, that’s why it’s rated “higher” as it’s more versatile

      • Reply January 19, 2016

        sulbh

        So e12a isn’t as powerful as c5?

        • Reply January 19, 2016

          Headfonia_L.

          I don’t know the specs like that, you should compare them but the E12A is an IEM amp and the C5 isn’t so it should be more powerful. the normal E12 has more power though

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