Solves the problems of poor PC audio

A Review On: FiiO E7 USB DAC and Portable Headphone Amplifier

FiiO E7 USB DAC and Portable Headphone Amplifier

Rated # 3 in Amp/DACs
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $64.65
julian67
Posted · 13355 Views · 2 Comments

Pros: Good sound. Easy and simple to use. No noise. Easily drives very low impedance earphones.

Cons: Limited to 16-bit 32/44.1/48 KHz streams.

I'm in the UK. I bought this as a boxed ex-demo unit with warranty from a FiiO retailer for £39.99 which is US $64.65 or €47.40

I bought this because my PC's integrated audio is frustratingly bad and other solutions and workarounds were not ideal:

My PC's analogue line out is noisy (electrical interference) and the headphone output is even worse.

It can't drive very low impedance headphones such as my Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi Earphones

It hasn't the power to nicely drive slightly less sensitive earphones such as Koss KSC75.

It does have SPDIF optical output and this connects to my ancient Yamaha Home Theatre receiver and sounds great, but that also has high output impedance and so can't drive earphones with very low impedance. It's also a power hungry beast and an extremely expensive way to run small earphones.

I had also previously tried a very cheap USB sound card but this was pretty nasty sounding with good headphones and also horribly badly made (one of those items which can fall apart while just sitting there).

I saw this FiiO E7 offered very cheaply as an ex-demo unit with warranty. I had read several reviews and a good technical appraisal (nwavguy) so went ahead and bought it.

Success! It solves all the above problems. It drives all my earphones and headphones very nicely. It is isolated from all the electrical noise generated by the PC so there is not a sound unless audio is playing. There is no hiss even with the Ultimate Ears SuperFi which hiss with every other thing I ever connected them to. It can push the relatively less sensitive Koss KSC75 to very high levels, easily enough even with well produced music with wide dynamic range. It uses virtually no power, being USB powered, and takes up less space than a pack of cards. That is quite a welcome difference from my giant Yamaha HT receiver.

The sound quality is excellent and seems absolutely neutral and with no objectionable qualities of any kind. I think the bass maybe lacks some impact or dynamics but that is being picky and subjective and is only in comparison with amps that have some serious power i.e. powered by mains, not battery or USB.

I've been using the FiiO with Windows XP and Debian Stable and it works exactly the same way with each. It's automatically recognised as a standard USB audio device and the built in driver does the job. It bypasses the operating system's volume control but by default not the sound mixer. You still can use an individual application's volume control but the system control is fixed to preserve bit depth.

I didn't try anything similar in Windows but in Debian I can entirely bypass ALSA's system mixer (dmix) and make the FiiO exclusive. Assuming the Fiio to be the first sound card (or the only one) adding the following to ~/.asoundrc would do the trick:
Code:
pcm.!default {
type plug
slave.pcm "hw:0,0";
}

This should give bit-perfect audio decoding for two channel 16-bit 44.1 KHz and 48 KHz audio.

The FiiO E7 is well designed, seems well assembled and is very nicely presented with good accessories. I possibly will never use it as a portable amp but I am extremely satisfied with it as a USB DAC and amplifier for earphone and small headphone use. If you have a high quality and really well implemented soundcard and headphone output on your laptop or PC then the FiiO probably won't do anything for you, but for the other 99% of us with rather noisy and low power integrated audio with a poor headphone output the FiiO E7 can make a huge improvement.

2 Comments:

I always wondered about that device.
 
I have the ELE DAC, which created quite a buzz around the forum a few months back, and while it does sound very good with my laptops, it does not always isolate the electrical noise from my desktop PC, unfortunately. 
I have read of some USB devices still being affected by EMI but even the really nasty cheap card I'd used before 5.1 PCI External USB Sound Card for PC didn't have this problem so I thought I'd risk a few pennies. I did read reviews and didn't recall anyone reporting noise with the FiiO. I think the few bad reviews were from products received D.O.A. or failing quickly and from people who found no improvement over the integrated sound on their expensive MacBook Pro or similar high quality PC.

It is really quiet. There is zero noise interference coming from the PC whether sound passes through the system mixer or bypasses it.

I did use it as a portable amp last night, hooked up to the line out of my iRiver H140 with the iRiver's level set to 0 dB. The iRiver headphone out has an obvious hiss even with less sensitive headphones and is very hissy with my SuperFi 5vi. The FiiO amplifying the line out is a huge improvement and also sounds much nicer than the iRiver amp. I am really surprised at the difference.

So far this device is better than I had expected and does seem to deserve all the praise it gets. I can't find anything negative to say about it except wish list stuff which isn't fair criticism (I would like SPDIF input, RCA line out, remote control, the same power output as my Yamaha receiver, wireless charging, also a coffee maker accessory, but all in a slightly smaller package, ideally to be presented as a gift from the grateful nation).