Fiio’s Android DAC: The E18

I’ve been reading the Fiio E18 reviews found around the web and while they seem to praise the device as a whole, personally I am not that impressed with Fiio’s latest device. While other reviews may focus on ergonomics or features or accessories supplied, my focus has always been about the sound. I can live with a severely limited functionality device like the Altmann Tera as it gives me the sound like nothing else can. I don’t care if the $2K audio player doesn’t come with any screen or even any internal storage as long as it sounds good. That’s the sort of a person that I just am.

I wouldn’t say that the E18 is a total disappointment. It does the job well, that is performing an external D to A conversion from an Android device. However it just doesn’t seem to excel at it. And I’m not even doing a comparison to the higher end ADL X1, Astell&Kern AK10, or CypherLabs’ Theorem. I’m simply comparing it to Fiio’s own E17 which is actually my #2 favorite device on Fiio’s USB DAC line up (my #1, the E07K, I seem to have misplaced it). Though I dig the E18’s beefier low end sound — and regular readers know that’s how I like my sound — I can’t ignore the feeling that I’m just missing a big deal of resolution and micro details. And the E17K seems to provide that easily enough. The other thing that I’m missing is the air in the sound. Though it’s quite clear that the E18’s soundstage is wider and even slightly deeper, I just want to feel a little bit of air at the top end. Overall I do admit that the E18’s sound is more enjoyable, but that may be just due to my personal preference enjoying a darker, bassier kind of sound. But really, my position is still sort of “I wish Fiio would’ve tuned the sound further”..

Now that I’ve gotten the sound review out of the way, let’s talk about the other details a bit. Normally when given the choice I always go for the smaller and more compact unit. With the Android DACs, however, I do prefer the E18 over the E17 and even AK’s AK10, ADL’s X1, or CypherLabs’ Theorem. The footprint of the E18 just fits very well with the footprint of my Galaxy S4 which I think is the popular size these days when it comes to Android devices. The short USB interconnect provided by Fiio is also something I appreciate, though it would’ve been better if they make it L-shaped like the one I got from CypherLabs. The battery power pack function is neat and something that I’d definitely use given the brutal battery life of smartphones these days. The E12-derived enclosure however needs a big deal of an improvement, especially after seeing how Ibasso woos everyone with their DX50 player (which is a direct competitor of Fiio’s own X3 player).

Overall I’d give it a good score. It does the job and I can live with the sound. Am I blown away? Far from it. I think Fiio can do better than this. Especially the enclosure quality, while it was okay with the Fiio E10 two years ago, 2014 is coming and I think they need to invest in a new facility just to churn out high quality enclosures for Fiio’s products. Then they can go back to kicking ass.

 

Fiio’s Android DAC: The E18
3.2 (63.03%) 33 vote[s]

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55 Comments

  • Reply November 12, 2013

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    This is the first FiiO product that uses the PCM1798 DAC chip. Maybe they haven’t got around to implement it properly.

    • Reply April 27, 2014

      joecole05

      yup…i dunno how the e18 chips will compare to wolfson chip of e07k and e17

  • Reply November 12, 2013

    Otaku Faisal

    i think it be better fiio to develop and improve amp and dac based on e07k

  • Reply November 13, 2013

    donunus

    I actually liked the e18. I found it more neutral than the e10 and the e12 sound

    • Reply November 14, 2013

      dalethorn

      What did you use it with?

  • Reply November 15, 2013

    Ashade

    This is not a review man, this is just a mess of words put together of how you were feeling the day (or week you had it). Honestly, I think you can do much better. I don’t mean you are wrong, but your words in this article are worthless written this way.

    • Reply November 15, 2013

      L.

      Thanks for the constructive comment 😉

      • Reply November 15, 2013

        Ashade

        You are welcome. Don’t get me wrong. I really think you can do better because you have done it before. I am just criticizing this specific review. I would have wanted to know the gears, the songs, the headphones. I find some contradictions as well. I was actually trying to be constructive, no destructive. There’s a lot of people that has been waiting for reviews of this product for more than 6 months, let’s try not to disappoint them without well stated arguments.

        • Reply November 15, 2013

          L.

          I hear what you mean and I see your points. It’s true this isn’t a full sized review so that’s probably why you’re missing stuff.
          Next review is over 2000 words again though. But in all honesty I think our reviews will regularly be shorter from now on. Some readers like long versions and some people don’t. We can’t please everyone, sorry you didn’t like it.

          But if you have any specific questions on gear used, I’m sure Mike will gladly reply to those in the comment section

          • Reply November 15, 2013

            Ashade

            That’s good to know. I absolutely agree it is impossible to please everybody, I am glad about the support you give on this website. Really appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

            • Reply November 16, 2013

              Mike

              I think the points you made are valid.

              But this is my point of view: I really just want to give the readers, what I thought to be the meat of the reviews. Of course I can always throw in another 1000 words to make a “complete” review but I thought there is no point to go that far.

              Different products, different approach. I don’t want to make the articles follow the same format over and over again. Some products need to be covered deeper, some not. Like the LCD-X article, really who needs a full-length review on that?

              • Reply November 25, 2013

                Ashade

                I couldn´t reply before. It’s fine if you have decided to go
                with short reviews. I am missing at least the headphones you used just to be able to have a reference. But eih, the review is greatly appreciated either way. Here goes my opinion about the device:

                Honestly, I have already spent more than two weeks with it, and I find it far superior to the E07K. Cannot compare with the E17 right now because I don´t own it anymore but E17 and E07K were pretty similar, differing mainly in the amp section.

                The E18 doesn´t lack microdetail IMO. In fact I find it superb when paired with for example AKG Q701, which drive awesomly (that’s why I was asking about the headphone).

                I didn´t find the E18 dark at all. I compared it with O2 + ODAC and neutrality is pretty closed in both. In fact the bass slightly emphasized and loose in the E07K when compared with the E18.

                The part in which I agree is the construction department. The chrome bezel is poorly implemented and has play. And the bottom and top caps for the aluminum covers could have been aluminum as well instead of plastic.

                In general, I think Fiio has hit a really sweet spot with this product, especially considering the price, and while there are many things that could be improved, for which device this is not true?

                • Reply May 9, 2014

                  James Dawson

                  It is 6 months down the line. I am a newbie too, just got a E18, to go with my soon to arrive AKG K550. For my first open/semi open, I was looking at the AKG Q701, they are going for $200 new on Amazon. But, I saw in a thread that the E18 + AKG Q701 not a good match..
                  If you still around, I like to hear more on the E18 and Q701..

                  Thanks in advance,

                  • Reply May 9, 2014

                    Ashade

                    I think it’s a more than decent match. For sure you can go better, but I still enjoy the E18 as my personal portable rig with the Q701. The extra bass works awesome, specially with the Q’s which are known to be bright. I still recommend this combo. I keep thinking is one of the best bangs for the buck.

                    • May 11, 2014

                      James Dawson

                      Ashade, big thanks for the response.
                      When you say I can go better, I take it that the Q701 could sound better with a more powerful/better/different amp?
                      Also, isn’t the Q701 and inhouse headphone? In other words, could the Q701 be used as a portable? It is semi open, and will leak sound! I think.. 🙂
                      Also, if I was to buy a desktop amp, for my one one and only desktop amp/dac, what would your recommend? Sub $200
                      I am liking this new found hobby/pastime/whatever big time.. Having a portable and desktop amp would be nice..

                    • May 11, 2014

                      Ashade

                      Yes, the Q701 can perform better with a better amp. My desktop solution is ODAC+O2, a little bit over $200 unless you build it yourself. Other economic options can be the Schiit products, although I don’t have personal experience with them. I bet the people of headphonia can help you in this department as well.

                      Regarding the Q701 being semi open, yes, they will leak some sound, and won’t block much noise, although they don’t leak as much as the HD700, for example. There’s other really good options for close-back headphones, but in general I use the Q’s if I have the chance (office, quite environments… definitely not recommended in libraries, other people might want to kill you). It’s not an ultra portable solution, but sometimes I move the Q701 and the Fiio E18 inside a big Slappa case you can find on amazon.

                      The Q701 is an awesome headphone if you already have other headphone to use in noisy situations.

                    • May 11, 2014

                      James Dawson

                      After reading this again and on Head-Fi, I have raised my budget to $300. This amp/dac and the Q701 will be over my head, but I can see I will enjoy them both.I will be ordering the ODAC+O2 and Q701 sometime in the next few weeks. Thanks much, your input, and recommendation was golden..

          • Reply August 15, 2015

            Gabriel Kwan Po Leung

            I have to agree with Ashade. Can you do a review where you hook up the e18 with multiple devices and multiple headphones/earphones. Currently I am using a Note 4 and I have the Shure 215 and 315 as well as the Beyerdynamic DT770 pro. I want a good DAC/AMP for my phone, which gives me decent sound. It would also be nice if the thing wasn’t a giant brick. Hence my interest in the e18. Cheers.

  • Reply November 20, 2013

    Albert Broman

    I have to say that I very much agree with Mike’s assessment. I have found that I usually don’t even bother to hook up my LG G2 to the Kunlun. I don’t have Mike’s experience so I can’t compare with other devices.

    • Reply November 21, 2013

      Mike

      So you’re using the Kunlun with ?

      • Reply November 21, 2013

        Albert Broman

        Life’s Good G2 phone. I’ll have to try it with my laptop. i just haven’t had time. I need better phones as I am using inexpensive Superlux. I am waiting to try Phillips L2, or perhaps the new NAD
        I travel a fair amount and one of my personal rules is to leave at home anything that I would regret having stolen. I have lost things to hotel cleaning crews, baggage broken into at airports, and strong armed on the streets of cities. No big deal if the Superlux gets jacked, but I would regret losing the Phillips.

  • Reply December 2, 2013

    Anshul dabral

    So whats your final word. i have two options fiio e 17 and fiio e 18 ( to be used with my note 2). Which one would you recommend.

    • Reply December 2, 2013

      L.

      Have you considered the C5D?

      • Reply December 3, 2013

        Dave Ulrich

        What is the early word on the C5D?

        • Reply December 3, 2013

          L.

          Mike and me don’t agree on it yet. But Mike has a bad one that was recalled so he’s waiting for a new one. Me, I’m waiting for my old C5, to compare it directly to that.

          My 1st impr. Better than the C5, more refined, but C421 amp still is king.

          • Reply December 3, 2013

            Anshul dabral

            Is sound quality in c5D really a big game changer… coz if it is i would then think bout digging deep into my pocket. Moreover fiio is available in india easily and C5d is not. Im looking to improve on my music listening experience through dac on my note 2 with harman kardon nc headphones. and if you guys think that the headphones are pretty basic to give a quality sound output then theres no point in buying a dac. So im stuck whether i should go with E 17 or E18 depending on which one has got a better sound quality and whether they are functional with my note 2.

    • Reply December 2, 2013

      Mike

      Well for me, I did say that the E18 is still the more enjoyable, but that’s due to my preference.
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    • Reply December 9, 2013

      gangsta_gangsta_thug_killa

      consider the Sony PHA-2

  • Reply December 30, 2013

    Marc

    Hello, how does it compare to Astell&Kern AK 10 ? Or even Headamp Pico DAC/AMP ?
    Thanks

    • Reply December 30, 2013

      Mike

      The AK10 is far more resolving.

      The Headamp Pico DAC is darker and fuller sounding, but quite archaic in resolution quality

      • Reply December 31, 2013

        Marc

        Thanks, I own an AK10 and find the mids to be thin and boring… Maybe I’ll try the leckerton instead.

  • Reply January 5, 2014

    ken tajalli

    E18 has a MAJOR FLAW!

    First of all, it is a good basic device, no gimmicks, but no facilities either! sound is the best in Fiio range,
    HOWEVER!
    it has a major flaw, which is forcing me to send it back for a refund. Some bright spark at Fiio decided that a 2 inch USB cable is all you need to connect the device to your mobile device!
    What The F***!
    E18 even has remote buttons for next track, last track , play/Pause , what for when the phone is only 2 inches away??
    You can not handle either device (phone or Amp) in such close proximity of each other. Fiio’s wonderful suggestion, strap the two together! I don’t want a strap in the middle of my touch screen – does anybody?
    Until or unless Fiio comes up with a three foot cable, to allow me to put my phone in one pocket and the amp in my shirt pocket, where I can get to it, listen to my music, and have basic control over my tracks, this device is almost useless as a mobile device.
    It is only good for connecting to a laptop or a PC.
    I want my money back!

    • Reply January 16, 2014

      Ashade

      You can buy a third party cable. I have at least four different cables right now…

      • Reply February 10, 2014

        Gabriel

        Seriously talk about that guy being a drama queen!
        I am glad they included such a short cable cause long cables I got tons of but short ones are not so common.

  • Reply February 23, 2014

    Gabriel

    Hello Mike!
    ” I’m simply comparing it to Fiio’s own E17 which is actually my #2
    favorite device on Fiio’s USB DAC line up (my #1, the E07K, I seem to
    have misplaced it).”
    I am trying to make up my mind between the E17 and E18 for my Sony Xperia Ultra (I currently have the E11).
    Your comment was interesting. Why do you like the E07K more. From all I have read the sound of the E17 is just a bit better on all areas then eh E07K.
    Also, again from other reviews, the E18 is supposed to be more neutral and less “veiled” than the others yet it seems that you feel it is the opposite as the E17 gives more detail?
    Right now the E17 is “winning” the race for me because I like the display, the file quality displayed and having treble/bass control I think is great but I am not 100% sure yet on which way to go.
    Also you mentioned deeper bass on the E18 but as I understand, the bass boost is only for mid bass so I was expecting the so called warmer E17 with more bass adjusment to actually be bassier. So any clarifications will be appreciated!

    Thanks for the help!

  • Reply March 9, 2014

    Gabriel

    So after a while with both the E17 and E18 I have to say, as others have mentioned..this “review” is a mess.
    There is no way the E17 is better and comments like “just missing a big deal of resolution and micro details” are so far off that it makes me wonder if the “reviewer” was drunk.
    I got the E18 because I got it for a steal of a price but I was biased towards the E17 because of the display and treble/control so my plan was to resell the E18 for a quick profit BUT “sadly”, I realized the E18 is the better DAC with more detailed precise imaging.
    The E17 can give you more bass if you push the settings to +10 but quality might get bad if your headphones cant handle it.
    So at the end of the day, I ended up now selling the E17. Just wish there was an E18 with display and the extra settings like the E17 but for now, the E18 is the ONE.
    Headfonia should seriously consider taking down this mess of a review and have someone else redo this correctly.

  • Reply May 18, 2014

    Synyster Jasnizam Paget

    hi I wanna ask..i using shure srh940 with xperia Z hp for listening to music and mostly heavy metal..do you think this e18 good enough for it?thank

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      dalethorn

      The SRH940 is bright – not the best for metal in my opinion, but the E18 sound is tilted toward dark, which should be a perfect match for the SRH940.

      • Reply May 19, 2014

        Synyster Jasnizam Paget

        Thank for the reply sir..yeah I know it bright so can u recommend me which headphones are good for those genre of music,i prefer to get an open type and thank I will get e18 later..

        • Reply May 19, 2014

          dalethorn

          SRH 1540 is darker and good quality. At a lower price the ATH ESW9 or 9a is very good.

          • Reply May 19, 2014

            Synyster Jasnizam Paget

            look like at my area don’t have esw9 or 9a..if any others model that almost on par with the one you mention?

            • Reply May 19, 2014

              dalethorn

              I have the new Sennheiser HD26, and it’s one of my favorites. The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro is also very good, but not as detailed as the HD26.

  • Reply June 21, 2014

    zllekk

    I own all the devices mentioned here. Both 1st and 2nd gen fiios and can speak quite clearly about how good these cheaper pieces of kit are compared to some of those other brands you mentioned. Also the looks are up there with astell and kern. I get so many questions about the e18 just based on its looks. Only the AK240 gets more questions about its looks. WTF is this review about? Lame.

  • Reply August 9, 2014

    ken tajalli

    Check your headphones mate!
    I have both E18 and E-07K (which I gave to my daughter). E18 sounds a lot better than E07K.
    My main system, is a Leema Dac, OTL tube monoblocks and sonus faber speakers.
    This review is very misleading.

  • Reply August 19, 2014

    Tim Schutte

    I really dig the Fiio E10 with my WS99,more then the E11 and E11K,so what amp or dac/amp sound like the E10…?

    • Reply August 20, 2014

      L.

      tough one. maybe something like the LDSLabs C5

  • Reply September 20, 2014

    Leonel Silva Rocha

    Huh, that’s it? Is this supposed to be a review? I must have missed something…

  • Reply September 21, 2014

    Leonel Silva Rocha

    So my earlier comment was deleted…How refreshingly democratic!

  • Reply March 23, 2015

    LSI

    Just replace the OPA1642 with LM4562 for lower noise and distortion and the LMH6643 with OPA2822 for lower noise and better power and transients. What you lose is some battery life since these opamps take a little more quiescent current.

    • Reply June 3, 2015

      Jeff

      Do you know which model of those chips do you need to use? Will to try it out. Thanks,

      • Reply June 4, 2015

        LSI

        The OPA1642 used in the E18 is a MSOP. I squeezed in an SOIC.

  • Reply June 19, 2015

    Amr Badrawy

    Any one tried the E18 with Sony XBA 40, im not sure if they will be a perfect match or not as XBA 40 is rated at 8ohms and it’s a little dark?

    • Reply January 25, 2016

      lumberjake

      I am a bit late but I found the E18 to be more on the cool crisp side of sound(at least compared to my HRT headstreamer). IMO it would suit the dark or warm sound of your headphones well.

  • Reply January 25, 2016

    lumberjake

    I bought this to stack w/ HTC One M7 and was initialy very pleased. It delivered with noticably improved sound in every area from sound stage and imaging to detail with lots of power for solid bass without being boomy. However, and perhaps I am too hard on my equipment, I was soon plagued with connection issues. I have enough problem with headphone plugs and cable failures so adding a number of connections only increased the probability of failure. I soon discovered why Fiio throws in an extra usb to usb cable, they fail within months of daily use. Not only that but the leverage of these cables connecting into the ports is really hard on the ports and I believe(after time spent deducing the issue) was causing the port connectors to start being finicky(need to be in just the right position to work). As soon as this became as issue I had to give up before I wrecked my usb ports.
    Bottom line? I just don’t get the point in stacking systems. Unless you can baby you stuff. Ensuring that the connectors aren’t under any stress(which is a huge hassle), the short lived sound improvement is not worth the ongoing grief of dealing with a system simply not intended by the phone makers. Besides, the HTC was not terrible and while on the go one simply cannot focus and listen with the same intensity as home. The trouble was not worth it. Not to mention the hassle of having these 2 things fitting in a pocket and having to deal with them when trying to answer a call. I learned that the trade off is not worth it. It just killed my enjoyment with constant issues.
    On the positive side, the E18 Kunlun is a very adaptable unit and when I got my HP Mini Pavilion PC and realized that my HRT Headstreamer( very good on the warm side) was both under powered and having its own USB port connection issues, I realized that I could try my Fiio. I connected it,switched it to PC in and listened. Very different than the HRT with it being more sharp, detailed and less bass while also needing more gain so I switched on the gain to high and the bass on and listened. Just about perfect. Turned up the volume and now have a very good headphone amp for my PC. Really great sound.
    In the end I am wasting the battery feature but I cannot deny the really brilliant implementation of this little thing especially at the price point. Its hard to ignore.

  • Reply January 22, 2019

    Nat Des Marais

    I have gotten tired of my iPods frying in my car system so am doing a revolution. I got the Fiio12 matched with a Cayin i5 DAP and will listen via Massdrops Sennheiser 6xx; will this work? Is it s good pairing? They are all being mailed to me as we speak,. Thanks for any advice. P.s. my phone is a galaxy 8 but I won’t be using it for music.

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