Pros: High power output, bassy sound, option switches, sleek looking, great universal sound
Cons: Noise during charging, option switches are recessed, build isn't totally smooth.
FiiO is one of the most popular companies in the world of headphone audio. Their products come with unmatched performance for the price. They want to deliver great products that fans will love by listening to them on Head-Fi and other forums and even letting the fans vote on versions. The FiiO Mont Blanc is FiiO’s new flagship portable amplifier. It boasts an amazing amount of power while still being affordable. I would like to thank FiiO for the review sample. Now let’s see if the E12 lives up to the FiiO name.
PLEASE read the review here:
Input and output: 3.5mm
Impendence support: 16 Ohm to 300Ohm
Battery Capacity: 9.7 Wh (880 mAh/11.1V)
Output Power: >880 mW @ 32 ohms
FiiO is quite famous for their great build quality in their black ‘stealthy’ looking designs. The E12 of course is no exception. The corners all come together seamlessly and it is not easily scratched. I wouldn’t recommend doing a drop test but the feeling of the E12 is just beautiful.
The E12 like FiiO’s other units comes with most accessories a starter would want. This includes a 3.5mm interconnect cable, a USB charge cable, User Manual, Warranty Card, Silica Gel packet, cloth carrying case, plastic dome standoffs, Binding bands, and the E12 itself. The binding bands the E12 comes with is quite large and will probably not work with most smartphones or Apple devices. It was meant for another FiiO device. I alerted FiiO of this and they said they will include normal binding bands along with the wide ones. I do not know if this is permanent or not. Some users have noted that their E12 cloth bag smells like gasoline. It seems to be the ones from Micca Store. Oil based products may have been near the E12 shipment.
FiiO also has a policy where accessories are free, which is quite nice of them. The only catch is that you must pay for the shipping which is $5. But all is well if you need more rubber domes, or interconnect cable. This program is up to FiiO and can end at any time. But as of this writing, it is in place.
The Mont Blanc feels well in a user’s hands and has a weight of authority as well. Like past FiiO’s, you can bind it to your PMP or just use it as a travel amp. It isn’t too large, but it isn’t exactly small either. I have put the Mont Blanc through some slightly hairy situations and it has still come through unscathed. It handles like most amps basically.
But this is the section with the most problems of the E12 sadly. The E17 and E07K’s aux in matched well with the LOD and iPod’s as it allowed for the L9 to be used and to be ergonomic. The E12 does not have this. You can face the E12 both ways and try the L9 with the E12 but it still won’t work. The L11 is an option but there aren’t exactly any cheap and readily available very short interconnect cables. If there was one, then this issue would be fixed. But the majority of those short cables are expensive. And most users seem to just use L3 and L9.
For more info on why this design is quirky, click here.
The moving parts of the E12 have a few issues. They are mainly nit-picks at getting perfection but still noteworthy to a review reader. The sub switches of Crossfeed and Gain do feel a little sticky. The Alpen and Andes both had this. They just don’t feel high quality when you switch them. Using a pen to change the options can also get color on the switches. The bass boost switch on the other side is a bit loose. This leads to bass boost switching to be turned on when the device strap moves over it. It is a bit of a weird design in my opinion. Having switches that require a pin and then having a somewhat loose bass boost switch. The last thing is the volume pot. I’ve noticed that it will get squeaky and feel like it is rubbing against the metal on the bottom. I have to sometimes put force on pulling the pot up a bit to stop it from happening. This thing is often a problem with volume pots, but it should still be noted.
It has been also mentioned before, but the initial binding band did not work with iPod’s or other 1 cm thick or less pmp’s.
The bass boost of the E12 v1 mainly applies to the sub bass. I believe FiiO puts the number at 4-5dB increase in sub bass at around 50Hz. The E12 is a flagship amp and it acts like it. Bass Boost is put down in China as being non-purist and so here we have a new sub bass bass boost. Which is an opposite turn from the full on bass boosting usually present in FiiO devices. I would say the quality of it is very nice and adds a nice sub oomph to songs.
FiiO listened to fans who wanted a more pronounced bass boost and so from now on, a V2 model with a different bass boost will be coming out. This will also boost the mid bass but it won’t boost it to crazy amounts.
Leckerton has a great post on what Crossfeed is. Click the Blue hyperlink for it.
Well the E12 comes with crossfeed. It does what the info page says it does.
It reduces the surrounding instruments while giving you a more up front symmetrical vocal.
The pronunciation of the lows is also effected by crossfeed. They are less powerful.
FiiO E12 changes:
FiiO has since said that they will include the standard band to the E12 package along with the new bands. I do not know if they will change this later on to just one set of bands.
The bass boost will also be changed to a more pronounced one.
There have been no info on how to tell the units apart(without listening) yet. But as of February, the units on the market should be V1 sub bass boost. My review was done with V1 bass boost.
You may have noted that I am listing a lot of nit-pick cons and quirks of the device and sparse sentences on good stuff. Well the thing is, the E12 is just a normal device. It being a normal flat working amp already makes up the list of positives. There really much to note on the E12 and its build and other things for pros as it is just a nice device already.
There is some noise with IEM's. It shouldn't be a lot for most units
Sensitivity of Volume Pot:
While on the go, I have tried many times to see if the volume pot can be turned. With just one finger, the volume pot was very hard to turn. It may have been on purpose or just a by product of it being a small Alps potentiometer. Also, due to the way the volume pot is by design, it is much harder to turn at the 'beginning' but it loosens up as you go higher in volume. This also works in the interest of IEM users.
Testing was done with IEMs such as the Heir Audio 4ai, 3ai, Tzar 350, Tzar 90, Dunu DN19, Vsonic GR07 Mk2, AKG Q701, Ultrasone HFI 580, and Sony MH1C’s.
It was tested with a Dual Wolfson WM8741 DAC lining out to the E12 with a RCA to 3.5mm cable.
I personally enjoyed the device more after an hour or two. But these findings have no backing data.
>880mW @ 32 ohms
The FiiO E12 is a departure from how the Alpen and Andes sounds. While the former two have a warm and sweet sound that is more bass prone, the E12 goes for a more clearer sound. I would say that it is more ‘audiophile’ and more neutral as compared to the Andes and Alpen.
FiiO E12 and Audio-gd NFB 12.1
The vocals of the E12 are more laid back but more full than the Audio-gd’s. They are very smooth and the mid instruments are also much more pronounced. The background mid instruments come in a bit stronger than the audio-gd. The separation of the entire spectrum is also closer together than other various amps such as the O2 and MRB. The separation is still of course better than many amps, but it is noticeably smaller on the Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc also has a deeper more pronounced bass hit. It is a bit looser but spread out more.
The FiiO E12 sounds much cleaner than other FiiO amps. Much more clear in the vocals and instruments. The bass has also been done well where it doesn’t give the user a more heavier hit. The E12 of course still retains the general quality of FiiO’s other products but it has upped the notch.
FiiO E12 and FiiO E11
The highs of the FiiO E11 are more harsh than the E12. They don’t hold as well. The separation of the E11 is also considerably less than the E12. Mid instruments and vocals are more congested and scrunched up. The vocals of the E11 are more forward than the mids, but the mids of the E11 are not very smooth. The lows of the E12 are also much tighter than the looser ones of the E11.
The E11 boasts of a more fun sound with a nice bass response to go with the tracks. However its vocals and highs ultimately fail the E11 in being up to par with the E12. But of course, the E12 isn’t a replacement for the E11. The E12 is the flagship series.
FiiO E12 with Custom Project-H (Objective 2 w/ Burr Brown op amp and Cirrus Logic flagship DAC)
With the DAC being the CS4398, the FiiO E12 does a good job up against the O2. The O2's vocals are more forward and louder than the E12's. The depth on the E12's vocals are also much better. The seperation and soundstage of the mids(instruments) is also superior on the O2. The O2 is just a bit sweeter than the E12. The E12, I would say is a bit colder than the O2. Of course, colder does not equal more neutral. The O2 would be the more neutral amp, but the O2 accentuates more parts of the song than the E12 does. Now you are thinking, how can the O2 be more neutral if it accentuates more things? Well neutrality is a word that goes into the best reproduction of music and how neutral will theoretically reproduce the music better. And the O2 does reproduce it better than the E12. The overal transparency on the O2 is also better than the E12. However, the units are still nice and closely matched. I'm quite surprised how close they are. To some, the distance between the two may not warrant one or the other, and to some, the distance is huge(purists). But whatever it is, I think that the E12 does a very good job against the O2. It's only that while on the go, I personally prefer a more warmer sound than what the E12 offer.
I think that some of life's challenges are reviewing products. A bigger challenge would be to review FiiO products. It is hard to really criticize their products when their price is so good for what is offered. The FiiO E12 Mont Blanc is a realization of FiiO enginuity yet again. They managed to put out a product at such a low price with good hardware and sound. The E12 is not going to wow people with high end units but for the price, it is a great unit.