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.