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