Pros: Tough, very small and light, excellent sound
Got myself a FiiO E5 portable headphone amplifier for a long bus and ferry trip. It was £14.44 delivered, including a car charger from mp3amplifier on Amazon.. I then went a bit daft (maybe, read on) and also bought a line out dock (LOD) to connect the ipod to the amp from ebay seller saradam62, search iphone line out dock with cable, for £19.99 including delivery.
The E5 is tiny, seriously tiny and very light, see the pictures. It has a solid metal casing and a clip which fits nicely through the belt slits on my soft ipod cover.
The built in lithium battery charges with a supplied USB cable to connect to a PC or via the car charger. A charge should last 20 hours. There is a mini jack in for the two different shaped supplied cables to connect from the headphone out on an ipod into the amp. On the other end of the amp is the mini jack out to connect to the headphones. On the same end is the tiny volume control , bass boost switch and on/off button. The instructions are in English and Chinese and the translation is perfect and very clear.
I tried it with the supplied mini jack cable from the ipod’s headphone out. With Sennheiser PX200s, Grado SR80s and AKG 702s it boosted the volume without distortion, particularly benefiting the larger headphones. In terms of SQ there was not a huge difference for the PX200s, with and without bass boost. The difference was clearer for the SR80s and AKGs. I find that the sound directly out of a ipod for both is a bit insipid, light and neither has any energy or drive. The FiiO made both listenable and provided the power boost both need. Bass boost was noticeable, but not significantly so.
I then tried the very nice LOD with its very tightly fitting connector, flat cable and pailiccs mini jack. It bypasses the ipod’s volume control and is the best way to connect an ipod to anything. The increase in SQ was exceptional and makes this extra expense to get the better connection very worthwhile. The volume goes even louder than before and still with no distortion. The AKGs in particular benefit from the additional power provided, just wish I had remembered to turn the volume back down on switching to the PX200s, ooh me ears!
All three headphone now sing and are shown to their real potential. Again it is the SR80s and AKGs that really benefit. The overall sound of the FiiO is bright and dynamic, particularly with bass boost on. There is not the soundstage, clarity and detail of an X-CAN full sized amp. But considering the price difference the FiiO puts the others to shame.
The Sennheiser PX200s sound full with a good bass and a slight treble. The SR80s added a full treble, depth, detail and more rounded midrange. They sounded a bit light and bright without bass boost and to my ears very much benefited from adding the extra bass. The AKGs added clarity, a crisper smoother treble, more detailed midrange, but less bass depth. So the FiiO is quite a neutral amp as all three headphones retained their ’house’ sounds and individual character.
In conclusion the FiiO E5, with a LOD to connect to an ipod is startlingly good and very good value. How long it lasts with its rechargeable battery and tiny plastic controls, I’m not sure. But at £34.43 for both amp and LOD? I’ll just get another one. There is an E7 coming out which is ipod specific, but no other details at the moment. If you connect any headphones to an ipod the E5 will give benefits, but more so full sized ones. Highly recommended.