Review: Fiio A5 – The New E12 aka My Fav Fiio Amp

Comparisons

The original E12 amp does make noise when it’s charging and the A5 doesn’t so that’s definitely a first improvement. The sound on the A5 is more spacious with better separation and it has more depth. Vocals sound more natural on the A5. The E12 was more about the power but the A5 is all about the sound, and then power. It is richer sounding in a more musical and less aggressive way. The original E12 has more mid body but has a noisier background. The E12A which was designed for IEMs but also works great with full sized headphones. The sound from the A5 is cleaner compared to that of the E12 and it has a blacker, more silent background. The E12A also shows a little more body in the mids but the voices and timbre are pretty much alike. Rich sounding mids, natural tone, musical delivery. The difference in sound signature between these two amplifiers is not that big.

Compared to the JDSLabs’s C5 amplifier, the A5 has a smoother and calmer presentation. The A5 also sounds more spacious where the C5 has a more intimate and aggressive presentation. The C5 is faster than the A5 amp. The A5 also sounds richer to me. The Bass boost in the C5 focuses more on the sub bass where the BB in the Fiio A5 adds body to bass and mids. The separation bass-mid in the C5 is also better and bass overall is tighter and has a better kick in the C5.

Fiio’s up-level E17K (used just as amplifier with the line in) sounds a tad cleaner, clearer and more neutral than the softer A5. To my ears the E17K has the richer sound but separation and depth aren’t that different and the presentation is more alike than it is different.

Most of the portable amplifiers in my collection are several times the price of the A5. Do they perform at a higher level? Yes of course, so there’s no real point in comparing them directly. It simply isn’t the target group Fiio is aiming at with this amplifier

Pairings

The custom 8-driver Jomo Audio Samba sounds completely in control with a fast pace, tight notes, great separation, spaciousness and awesome bass. The Jomo on the A5 has a very good clarity level and detail is everywhere, I really love this combination although the Samba owner probably won’t be looking at the A5, this really is a nice combo. The Samba easily picks up hiss but it’s perfectly silent on the A5. Impressive.

The universal German Inear ProPhile 8 sounds neutral and precise with a lot of detail. The clarity on the PP8 is impressive and the A5 really drives it well giving it a musical boost with a good low range. There’s also no hiss audible at any time and the A5 and PP8 simply sound good. The Radius hp-twf41 is quickly becoming a favorite universal IEM of mine and again I can’t say anything bad about the Radius and the Fiio A5 pairing although you have to like more than average bass body. Same goes for the Fidue A91: great voices, a darker presentation but with excellent voices. Bass is rather big on this pairing though, even more so than with the Radius and a lot of people might find it too much. If you can look past the bass then you’ll love this combo.  This amplifier simply rocks with almost all the BA and Dynamic driven IEMs I threw at it.

The Audioquest NightOwl is my headphone of the year so far and it sounds divine with the A5. The Owl has enough bass on its own so I don’t recommend turning on the BB. If you didn’t like the Hawk because it sounded dark or muffled, then you’ll love the Owl. The A5 drives it with authority, although the Owl doesn’t really need that much amplification. The orthodynamic Audeze LCD2.1 which I’ve been rediscovering also matches great with the Fiio A5 on low gain. Like the A5 it doesn’t show the best detail, widest/deepest soundstage and dynamics but it is musical, engaging and unique with powerful bass. When the LCD2.1 came out it blew everything away and with the Fiio A5 I’m reliving that headphone period all over again. Great pairing!

The latest technology orthodynamic Hifiman HE-1000 sounds best on high gain but while there’s enough power to drive the Hifiman, it doesn’t have the layering, depth, width and detail these cans can show you with a high level amp. So it’s doable but you’ll miss out on a lot. The good thing is that people who own the $2999 HE-1000 probably have an amp that can make it sound its best. The dynamic driven Sennheiser 300Ω HD800 isn’t the easiest headphone to like and drive and the amplification is hyper important with this headphone. With the Bass Boost turned on it actually is quite enjoyable but you basically get the same story as with the HE-1000, this just isn’t the amp for this kind of headphone, although the bass on the HD800 was impactful/enjoyable. The smooth and airy Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is easy to drive and it pairs with the A5 quite well. I personally am not a fan of the bass boost with the Amiron when listening to music but I’m sure there will be people who swear by it. To get better bass when listening to music on the Amiron, I would recommend a different amp. I did like it a lot while I was watching music, something I love doing with the Amiron and that’s the great thing about the Amiron Home: it’s excellent for music, movies and even gaming. It’s a recommended combo for sure. I love the bass/treble contrast of the Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO studio monitor and I loved it with on the A5 without the bass boost. Turn the BB on and the DT1990PRO becomes a little bass monster. I have to admit it was excellent with techno so if that’s your thing, this is for you. Like with the Amiron, this combo just works. Ear candy all the way.

Conclusion

The A5 is a really great amplifier for the price. The downside is the unit isn’t the smallest in size and that you get a basic but nice design. But the build quality (except for the lines not matching up) again is really good. This isn’t really the portable amplifier for high end equipment but this is an amplifier that will improve the sound quality from your normal MP3 players and phones, or power your headphones when your normal source isn’t up to it. I certainly liked it with a whole range of head- and earphones.

For the $129 price you get a whole lot from Fiio and beside the sometimes extreme bass boost I can’t really complain about anything. Not that I’m trying to complain but Fiio just delivers very good value for the money and I hope they’ll keep doing that for a long time to come. As a result the A5 is another success to me, it’s that simple.

Personally, just looking at the 3.5mm line out, I even preferred the A5’s sound signature over that of some of the latest DAP’s. That of course doesn’t mean this amp will improve the sound of all your DAPs. I in example still – just looking at sound – prefer the headphone out of the AK70/AK380 and Cayin i5. Whether they have enough power, now that’s a different story. Anyway, it’s another great amp from Fiio, one that’s fairly close to the E12A and that’s a very good thing.

The Fiio X5iii has been used a lot as my to-go-to DAP the last couple of weeks and it has really opened up, expect a review real soon.

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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.

46 Comments

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Eugene

    Thank you for the great review, Liven.

    I have Fiio X5 II paired with Fiio E12A and Sennheiser HD600 (AKG 712 Pro, Beyerdynamic 880 250 Ohm). For comfort listening and to enjoy music I never turn volume knob of E12A more than 11a.m. (high gain), so I have plenty of headroom. These headphones do not sound underpowered or distorted for me (even current hungry AKG).

    Will I notice any significant difference with A5?

    • Reply February 11, 2017

      Lieven

      I’d stick with the 12A. Great amp and the A5 won’t offer you a lot more.

      • Reply November 12, 2018

        Indrajit

        How does A5 compare with Schiit Magni amplifier? Driving power is not an issue as I have a Sennheiser HD 598(50ohms) to drive

    • Reply January 21, 2018

      Rifle

      Hi, I have the E12 but it hisses on my iems too loudly when line out from my DAP. Should I go for the E12a or the A5(considering same price bracket) as I will be keeping the E12 for myself. Thanks in advance!

      • Reply August 24, 2018

        Mike lloyd

        E12A as your IEMs appear very sensitive. Love mine….

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Eugene

    Sorry, Lieven, I misspelled your name in my previous comment.

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Carter Dotson

    Thanks for the review! I actually picked one up already, but it’s always good to hear that I’m not crazy based on my impressions! Anyway, how would you compare this to the Cayin C5 amp? Was thinking about picking that one up instead, as I really like the sound of this amp with my HD580, but I prefer an airier-sounding amp with my NightHawk Wood.

    • Reply February 11, 2017

      Lieven

      I’m sorry but Nathan has the C5, not me.

    • Reply August 24, 2018

      Mike lloyd

      Doesn’t the Cayin have a high’ish output impedance, making it unsuitable for low impedance headphones?

  • Reply February 13, 2017

    Wim

    OK not suitable for my 300ohm HD580, the search continues, difficult as I don’t want to spend a lot for a portable amp… Any recommendations always welcome!

    • Reply February 14, 2017

      dale thorn

      What DAC are you feeding into that amp?

    • Reply February 15, 2017

      Carter Dotson

      I think the amp has plenty of power for the 580, it sounds great with my 580. And I don’t think that you’re realistically going to find a portable amp with that much power period, or at least not without buying maybe a Chord Mojo, maybe? The DACport HD might be a decent pickup for you depending on what your source is.

  • Reply March 28, 2017

    Juan Luis

    Hoy its soundstage compared with Cl Picollo?

  • Reply April 7, 2017

    Terence

    Would this amp make a difference when used with the X5 iii ? Or does the X5 iii not really need a separate amp?

    • Reply April 29, 2018

      Alejo

      I was wondering exactly the
      same…

  • Reply May 14, 2017

    Mihnea

    Hi.
    Would you recommend it paired with a Fiio X5 3rd gen or is the player enough?

    thanks

    • Reply May 14, 2017

      Lieven

      Depends on what you need to drive

  • Reply June 6, 2017

    RS

    Will it be great with beyer DT 990 pro 250 ohm?

  • Reply June 26, 2017

    Ruslan

    Hello! is it worth buying for Fiio X3-II and ATH-MSR7?
    sorry for my english 🙂

  • Reply August 7, 2017

    Angga

    I have HD650 and E17K. Planning to add A5 or E12A to this setup, is it worth?

    • Reply August 7, 2017

      Lieven

      I’d save up for something like the C5/EL/Picollo/duet/CV5

      • Reply August 8, 2017

        Angga

        So Cayin C5 is better than Fiio A5? (the other option were too expensive for me)

        • Reply August 8, 2017

          Lieven

          it is, but I am talking about the JDSLabs C5

  • Reply August 8, 2017

    Angga

    Oh sorry, my bad.
    But JDSLabs C5 already discontinued, right? How about JDSLabs Objectice2?

    • Reply August 8, 2017

      Lieven

      2nd hand market 🙂
      We’re not fan of the O2 amp, sorry.

  • Reply August 8, 2017

    Angga

    Oh okay then.
    Thank you, Lieven.

  • Reply August 13, 2017

    Kyle Stevens

    How does the Fiio A5 work with the HD650? I also have HE 400i which I think the A5 will power sufficiently I’m just worried about the HD650s.

  • Reply August 13, 2017

    Lieven

    It works but the HD650 deserves better

    • Reply September 16, 2017

      Kyle

      Hopefully by the time I get my headphones I’ll have a Dark Voice

  • Reply August 17, 2017

    Martin

    I have the Sony player: NWZ-A17 and for headphones: Sony MDR 100AAP (not the best but still i like them) .With who amp should i pair them ? A5 or E12 ?

  • Reply August 30, 2017

    Alex alex

    I have X5 ll +E12A and I use it with westone um pro 30 & audio technica PRO700, abd plaining to buy HD 650 too. If i could change E12A for new A5 , should I do this?

    • Reply August 30, 2017

      Lieven

      No I wouldn’t upgrade

      • Reply August 30, 2017

        Alex alex

        Ok, thanks

  • Reply November 21, 2017

    rio

    hello , I’m an e12 fanboy since a long ago, but unfortunately I must sell it because of some reasons (hissing is one of them) now I’m searching for an amplifier that warmer than e12 , is a5 a good option for me? my friend said it’s more fun than e12a

    • Reply November 23, 2017

      Lieven

      E12A is dead silent though

  • Reply November 29, 2017

    Beaters

    I have dap Fiio X3 III + MDR 1000x worth it for Ampli A5 ? Thanks

  • Reply March 24, 2018

    Palash

    Cayin C5 vs Fiio A5 . Whcih one to choose.

    • Reply March 25, 2018

      Lieven

      It’s a tough call. We”ll know more soon

      • Reply August 5, 2019

        Ronaldo

        Any updates? I will be pullimg the trigger on either one very very soon. Thanks in advance.

        • Reply August 5, 2019

          Lieven

          I’d go for the Cayin but have you seen the Fiio Q5s?

  • Reply April 25, 2018

    Giorgio Deleo

    Is a worth buy to drive at the best my Sennheiser HD 580?

  • Reply April 29, 2018

    Alejo

    Hello Lieven,

    I have a X5 III and B&O H9I; does it really make a difference adding this A5 to my setup? Will I have better sound? Or will it be louder only? Some months ago I bought a Chord Mojo and I paired it to my iphone6s with Bowers and Wilkins P7: I didn’t notice any difference in sound (it was louder only)…

  • Reply May 31, 2018

    Firman

    Does it worth to buy this if I already have LG V30 as my source? I am using Sennheiser HD 6XX. Will it make a big difference?

  • Reply January 8, 2019

    Heru Pranyoto

    Compare FIIO A5 to Cypher labs Picollo AMP, which is better to pair with FIIO M6 which is small size DAP like Picollo.
    I expect better sound resolution (detail, staging and separation) also higher output power than the stock of the FIIO M6

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