Pros: Powerful and slimm
Cons: Volume knob
There has been a lot of talk lately about affordable portable amps. Coming from using high end portable amps in the past I was quite skeptical. I thought that there is no way a sub 200.00 amp could compete with RSA and Headamp. I had the same mentality towards portable amps as I did towards customs. I guess I thought that if you could not afford the big boys then you really did not need an amp. I have seen so much change in the portable music industry in the last six years I have been a member here. Amps and customs were for the elite audiophile and that justified their price.If you wanted to Join the club you had to pay.
Let me give you a little of my background gear. I have tried several high end portable amps over the years. I started with the RSA hornet. I was so thrilled those many years ago when it was released. I was so amazed at the sound it could produce through my Custom ultimate ears. Shortly after the Hornet was released Ray came out with the Tomahawk. Hey a smaller portable amp that could perform better yet more battery life. I jumped on the wagon. As soon as I jumped purchased the Tomahawk Justin from Headamp posted about this new dac/amp called the Pico. Man my world was spinning around, I had to have it. Now I could use a dac to improve my pc sound and then take it on he go with my ipod. I was so thrilled with this amp till Ray posted about his new ultra small amp called the P51 Mustang and its Dac/amp counterpart called the Predator. I managed to hold out on this amp until recently. I have been enjoying this amp for a few weeks now.
Well with all the talk of affordable amps lately, I decided to contact Fiio and ask a few questions about their idea of providing cheap amps to the community. I thought it was another Chinese company trying to rake in the bucks on the efforts of people like Ray Samuels and Justin W. I thought this was tragic. I thought it could leave a bad impression and possible drive new audiophiles away from the hobby because of a shoddy product. When Fiio offered to send me an e11 and a L9 ipod LOD I agreed. I thought I would finally be able to differ people away from this product and protect them. I promised to give a honest review no matter what my biased beliefs were.
Well two days ago I received a package from Hong Kong by DHL.It took about four days to arrive which is quite good seeing as they did not send it express. There was a small box enclosed in the DHL envelope. Within the box there was some styrofoam protecting a small silver box about the size of a wallet and a small static envelope.
The silver box contained the E11 amp, a 3 inch 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect, short usb mini cable, and a silicone band. It was packaged quite nicely and accessories were great. The anti static bac contained the L9 right angled LOD.
The construction of the amp is mostly plastic.The volume knob is an ALPS potentiometer. They do this to ensure a low noise and good channel balance. There is a built in high-performance lithium battery. It is a BL-58 model. Basically that is a cellphone battery that can be easily replaced To one side you see five 220 16v RVT solid state capicators. Underneath the battery you see a switch to change from high to low power.
As you look on the outside edge of the amp you see gain switch and a 3 position eq switch. The other side has the usb charging port, and the front has the volume knob, input and output connectors. There is a blue power led and red charging led on the top of the unit.
The frequency response is 10~1000Khz. Signal to noise ration is ≥98dB. Crosstalk is 60dB. Gain ≥ 12dB High, and ≥ 6dB for the low. total harmonic distortion is <0.009%(10mW). Voltage on high is 300mW(16Ω), 200mW(32Ω), and 35mW(300Ω). Voltage on low is 120mW(16Ω), 88mW(32Ω), and 13mW(300Ω). The recommended headphone impedance is 16~300Ω, and the input impedance is >5KΩ.
The size is quite acceptable for a portable use. It is quite thin and light. It measures 92.55mm x 54.2mm x 13.4mm and weighs 65g with the battery.In my opinion it is easier to slip in the pocket than the p51 and ipod combo.
The L9 lod is a right angled 3.5mm connector with a low profile 32pin connector. It uses two 6cm PCOCCA-A copper wires with PFA insulation and a cotton rope medium surrounded by a black TPE sheath. the impedanceof the wire is a max 0.07Ω and has a resistance of min 2MΩ.
I have been listening to the amp almost constantly for the past few days and it has about 30 hours on it. The battery lasts between 10 and 12 hours. and takes about 3 hours to charge. I was using my ipod classic 7g with ALAC and 320 KB/ps files. Iems I used were my ultimate ears ue-5c, ue-11 pro, and jvc marshmallows. I will use other iems as I get them in shortly. I was unable to use fill size cans as I don't have any on hand currently. I used many genres of music from Loreena Mckennitt to Disturbed. Basically every genre other than country.
There are a few things I don't like about the amp. I don't like the how the volume knob was designed. I understand that they did this to prevent accidental operation of the volume knob. When the unit is piggy backed with the ipod it is very difficult to manipulate the volume knob. They could help prevent this by including some sort of feet to attach like RSA and headamp do. This would provide a bit more room between the amp and the ipod. I also feel that in this configuration the L9 is not suited.
I do find the amp provides more than enough power for my iems and probably enough for full size cans. With my ue-11 pro I have the volume on 3 with a low gain and no eq. I would be afraid to turn it up any louder or put it on high gain as it would cause hearing damage. In my opinion it should be able to power most any iem or headphone out there you would take portable. There is plenty of detail and separation in the music. There is a strong punch in the bass and really tightens up sloppy bass. For the most part I dont use the eq, however I think it is a good idea for someone that does not have their desired bass in their cans. you can use a flat iem to listen to classical music and then add some bass to techno or rock to make the same iem fun.How does this compare to high end amps? Well the p51 has a larger soundstage and a bit more accurate bass and detailed highs.I think it would be quite hard in a blind test to tell this was not a high end amp.
The L9 is not a bad lod for the price ( around 20.00) there are a few things that could be better. I dont think the right angled connectors suit my current needs. The LOD sounds good. It is a bit warmer than the RSA lod I am comparing it to, but is more flexible.The 30 pin connector is a bit loose. It wiggles in the line out of the ipod and a little too easy to pull out. You can just lightly pull on it and it releases. I worry the connector can come loose when removing from my pocket.
In conclusion Fiio has opened my eyes. It is quite possible to provide a great product for an affordable price. There is plenty of power to amp most any can and has a great sound. I do prefer aluminum housings over plastic and would like a different knob or silicone feet, but this is a solidly built portable amp with great accessories. I love the silicone band they include. It is a good amp no matter how much the price tag is. I have no problem recommending this amp alongside the Pico, P51, and the likes. I do feel there are better amps out there but at 3x-5x the price.
The L9 on the other hand is different. I feel it could be a lot better. It has great sound but I just cant get over the connector. I would like to try a different LOD from them and see if it is better or suits my needs more.
I bought some silicone bumpers and it seemed to have fixed my problems.