There are hundreds of portable amplifiers on the market and it just isn’t realistic to compare them to each and every one of them but one amplifier we all like here at Headfonia is the similarly priced JDSLabs C5. Mike has been a longtime fan of the CMOYBB amps, and when JDSLabs released their C421 amp we were both extremely excited and happy with the result. That amp has been replaced by the C5 amp with a digital volume control and it’s available for $189 directly from their online shop.
C5: The JDSLabs amp is a little bit more expensive but at the same time it’s a little bit better. There’s more detail, a wider sound stage and a tighter and bigger bass with bass boost on. I do find the E12A’s mids richer than the C5’s but the C5’s treble is more detailed on the other hand. Both amps have their strengths but in total the slightly more expensive C5 amp just is that bit better sounding.
Picollo: We reported already that the more than double costing Picollo from Cypherlabs is a really great amplifier for IEMs. Great sound stage, huge amount of detail. Bass on the $399 Picollo does not have the body it has on the E12A and the C5.
Fiio E11K: With a price tag of $59.99 the Fiio E11K offers even more value for money. Result wise however, the E12A is miles ahead of the E11K. As a matter of fact, I find the E12A to be the best sounding portable Fiio amp. It’s got a lot more detail and clarity than the E11K and its sound stage is noticeably wider. If your budget permits it you should definitely go for the E12A instead of the E11K, even if you’re not an IEM user.
CIEMS & Headphones
Sennheiser HD650: Both the E12 and E12A have more than enough power for the HD650. The E12 gives you more body in mids and bass and the E12A gives you more midrange detail and Air. Personally I prefer the HD650 on the E12A. I always recommend OTL tube amps for the Senns, like the Crack, but the E12A makes the HD650 sound pretty darn good.
Beyerdynamic T51p: My favorite on-ear headphone sounds good with both amps but I prefer the richness of the E12A, especially as it already has enough body from itself. The T51P of course doesn’t really need an amplifier.
Hifiman HE-400i: The new Hifiman orthodynamics are not as easy to drive as you would expect and the E12A had to be switched to high gain. I really didn’t like the HE400i on the E12 and found it rather boring sounding, something that isn’t the case at all with the E12A. You do get bigger bass when using the E12 but I’ll happily exchange some bass for better mids.
Audeze LCD2 and Audeze LCD-XC: Again, the E12 on Low Gain delivered the most power and as a result you get better body and more bass. The E12A’s mids on the other hand were nicer. A tough choice to make as I’d like to have both bass and mids equally good. The E12A had to be switched to high gain for the LCD2.
1964 Ears V6S: Hiss is the first thing you’ll notice when connecting the V6S to the E12. On the E12A? Nothing, silence, noiseless. Perfect. That goes for all CIEMs I will mention btw. I like using the Thor Copper cable from Effect Audio with the V6S. It gives that bit of extra body and bass and it’s exactly what the besides that excellent V6S needs. The E12A was a great match with the V6S but sound stage wise the amp is holding it back a bit.
Cosmic Ears CE6E: With bass boost on you get really big bass, right on the edge of acceptable for me. Detail and sound stage wise however this isn’t the best combination. The CE6E is capable of more and it sound so much better out of the Picollo.
Rhines Stage 5: This review will be up in January. I preferred the E12 without bass boost. The Stage 5 already has good body in bass and mids and it really doesn’t need the extra boost. The mids of the Stage 5 are a bit dark and slightly muffled on some recordings and the E12A just doesn’t manage to make them sound clearer.
Custom Art Harmony Pro 8: My latest addition and (I’m not afraid to say it) the best custom monitor in my collection. The review will also be published in January if all goes well but it has superb detail, a very wide sound stage, deep bass and great highs. I love it so much (and I don’t get WOW’ed easily). The CAHP8 is clearly getting hold back by the limitations of the amp. The Pro 8 deserves a top amp and the difference when switching between the Duet and the E12A is enormous.
I hope you don’t get the wrong idea after having read all this. The Fiio E12A is a great and musical amp in its category. Are there better amps? Sure, but there are a whole lot of amps that are worse.
The two strongest points of the E12A are that the portable amp can power IEMS like it should (in a silent way), and you can even use power hungry full sized headphones with it at home or on the go. It’s a very versatile and good sounding amp that you can even use as a desktop amp at home. Again, Fiio has delivered a good sounding unit, which I prefer over the original E12, for a small price. You’ve just got to love it. Another job well done, if you don’t want to spend too much money on a portable amp for your IEMs you have got to check the E12A out, but don’t forget to throw the JDSLabs C5 in the mix as well.
You can buy the Fiio E12A from one of their dealers, nowadays Fiio is available all around the world and the E12A will cost you around $159.99 or €169.99. No idea why it’s more expensive in Europe though.
Chia Zhao Han
quite some typos. great reading article as usual!
Thanks, feel free to point them out though
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…”
That’s when you type one key to high on your keyboard. 1 vs A
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!
hey Headfonia_L !. i need help and the quastion is: are my headphones
>RHA MA750i good for the 12A ? . plz help 🙂
What are you going to use with the amp?
my mp3 sony player=12a amp+ RHA ma750i. 🙂
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.
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
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.
Sure, but the T10 is better 😉
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. 🙂
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.
thx but fiio 12A have DAC inside??
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.
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?
It won’t be ideal but it will work
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
That’s more or less it indeed. Bare power vs refinement & detail
If you were to purchase an amp, which would be the best to buy.
-Fiio E 18
What are the other components you’ll use with it?
Into a laptop to amplify the sound and an Ibasso DX 90. I have Bose headphones.
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.
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).
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.
Thank you for the detailed answer!
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!
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.
Like Dale says, an amp/dac combo might be better, I recommend the C5D. And new headphones 😉
Yeah, C5D, and definitely a different headphone.
What headphones would be better that aren’t too expensive?
Shure SRH-840 is neutral, comfy, good quality, $200. Unless you have a preference for a different kind of sound.
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?
The E12A for HD650 is not really recommended, I’d stick to IEMs. Sure it works but there is better in a desktop amp
Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately I do not use IEM’s and use the HD650 portable, so my question is still open.
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.
Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara
Worth paying almost 3x the price of e11k for labs jds c5 ?? The sound difference is huge ?
Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara
Sennheiser Momentum and Fiio x1.
I’d use the FiiO amp then. The X1, E11k, and Momentum are a good match.
Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara
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)
You were using the iBasso d-Zero MK1 as DAC-plus-amp for the iPod Touch?
only amp, dac section only with laptop that’s why now I considering a pure portable amp
how to bypassing ipod internal dac ?
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.
E12A is the better amp, especially for IEMs
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 ?
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.
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)
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.
thanks! I think I could stick to e12a because now I only needed an amplifier, very rarely use computer as media player
E12a – good choice.
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
I just think as a DAC plus amp, for $139, the value is extremely good.
waiting the review until my money more than enough LoL
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.
How does it compare to e11k and c5
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
So e12a isn’t as powerful as c5?
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