Pros: Microphone, controls, usability, bass
Cons: Some ergonomic issues, lackluster overal sound
Full review here:
The 5 Star Value and 4.5 star overal score is mainly due to this device being for people that need to use it's combined functions. As a standalone portable amp at this price range, other than added bass, there is little to really like sonically for the price but for only $29 with a Microphone, and voice control and also many added on usage and everything. IT is a good device for those that want and will use it.
Sound section part of review]
My reference setup will be:
ComputeràS/PDIFàAudio-gd NFB 12.1 Dual Wolfson WM8741 Fixed DAC outàCustom O2 with Burr Brown OPA2228.
So how does it sound. Well the E02i is warm. Very warm. It is not as universal as many of FiiO’s other amps due to this but at a price point of $29 USD, most headphones used with it won’t really be picky in any case. The E02i is a warm and slightly muddy amp. IT does improve (more on what I mean by improve later) on some things such as bass and has artificially sweeter sound but in the end still has trouble keeping up with other dedicated portable amps in the price bracket. It’s soundstage is quite small even for a $30 amp when compared to others of the same bracket. Everything is very tight packed together with also less separation that you would expect. The saturation and bass impact of the E02i however sets it apart. For true audiophile’s. This is a no no and is not generally wanted. But at the price bracket that the E02i targets, the E02i may be very much wanted for the effects it brings of warmness and bass impact.
I didn’t really go into depth there as well in my opinion, unlike headphones, the regular sound quality section is just short and sweet, the comparison section however is where things really matter as come on. I can say warm and muddy for any amp up to $300 but compared to what is the main question.
HOW THE AMP WORKS:
The amp does not work like a traditional one where you first set your pmp's volume and use the E02i's volume controls to control the E02i's amp. The E02i piggybacks on the PMP or iPhone/iPod's own and when you press + on the E02i, the iPhone will raise by one step which is a nice innovative dual amping way to do such a thing. It is still dual amping as it is using a 3.5mm jack but the way it piggy backs onto the iPhones interface already is a nice new thing.
E5 and E02i:
The E5 wins and undeniably beats the E02i in sound. The E02i suffers from lack of separation and or soundstage when compared against it’s many previous gen ago brother the E5. The E02i is just a very warm solid state amp in the sense that it just makes everything more saturated and vibrant but overly vibrant. This does make it sound sweeter and more different to others but in terms of sound. The E02i however does have some of FiiO’s improvements, noticeably in the bass section. With both devices with bass boost OFF, the E02i delivers more punch and impact. However it does this with some not really punchy effects. Still better than the E5’s punch though. I won’t say which is better as some enjoy more punch at this price bracket even if it is muddy while others would rather not. The bass boost on with the E02i also delivers and amplifies the effects of the E02i even more. This means even more warm vibrancy and muddy bass punch compared to the E5 which handles it more sparingly. The bass boost on the E5 however in terms of technologically speaking isn’t as good as the E02i’s in my opinion. The E02i’s of course is more muddy in that it has car sub effects but at the price bracket, it significantly has more punch and just bass than the E5 could ever deliver.
iPhone 4S headphone out and E02i:
The E02i wins here. But not in an overall kind of sense. Some audiophiles would rather use iPhone or their headphones out instead of using with E02i’s amp as it doesn’t over saturate the sonic objects of the range and is more “neutral” in some senses. But even with that said, the highs, vocals, mids and lows just sonically in a step by step comparison generally have the E02i winning with more enjoyability and some improvements. Such as steadier high frequencies and a punchier low and more “lusciously” warm vocal. The soundstage on 4S direct out is larger by a tad bit. Initially it may seem like the E02i may have an advantage over soundstage but it only feels that way initially. The direct out on the 4S has more wiggle room and spreads. I will say that the warm added bass on the E02i lessens the appearance of soundstage. With all said, I personally prefer the warmer sound as opposed to the direct out’s and the added punch, although on the muddy side is welcome. The added sonic improvements in softening out some highs and warmer vocals are also a nice side to see.
The E02i is a good “unit” for $29 USD approx. It is not sonically as clear as the popular E5 of the same price bracket , nor is it superior in an audiophile sense. However it is superior in the things it does for the users. It adds more warmth to the music and more bass impact and overall. The added warmth for users at this price let it sound different than you would from iPhone or iPod direct out and the added bass impact and bass in itself is also welcome. I am making very generic statements on what I believe users at the price range of $29 USD find or will notice but my observations have generally shown me that they like added warmth as it shows difference and also the bass is what they also look for.
While the E02i does suffer sonically when compared to it's cousin the E5, for the features it packs, it is a nice update to the FiiO line. It will dual amp and has a few nit picks here in there whilst using it but overal, it is a nice portable device to have with your smartphone. I do not know if it will work with other devices yet. Tell me in the comments on what ones you tried it with. But the controls work very well, it is a very intergrated product for use with a Smartphone and mainly an iPhone 4/4S to be exact doing operations smoothly and nicely. It has some nice bass boosting properties but the biggest point is just how it has a microphone for use in the car while using your favorite headphones as well. There are other things and annoyances and compatibility issues on using sensitive headphones, plugging in the E02i creating a pop(manual says to not have headphones plugged in, but hey, hard to follow) and also the tangly wires. This is not realy just even an amp anymore so I can't say to recommend it to an amp wanter. This is mainly a device for users that wants to be able to use their smartphones(or iPhones at the moment) for many of it's features and should be bought depending on if you want to use it for the voice control, amplification and all the other nice features that I have went through above.