Just got the amp an hour ago from the postman, guess I'll post a few pictures while I am waiting for the amp to charge up. An early impression will follow in next 12 hour. Remember: This is just a sample, the final production might be different.
The whole package
Comparing to the E3 I got from DealExtreme
Both amp seems to to be in life size on the box?
The mini amps shoot out, featuring FiiO E3, E5 and Travagan's Colors
Charging - indication in blue
Charging and turned on - indication in purple
Turned on - indication in red
[Frequency Response Graphs]
*SigmaTel is the build-in sound card of my Dell XPS420, and served as the baseline here.
For those who haven't read my Colors vs. E3 thread, you can find it here. I have always prefer detail over bass boost, thus I do prefer my Travagan's Colors over the E3 (you can see on the first graph that E3's treble isn't particularly well), even when Colors does have a weaker bass output. In comparison, E5 has capable of matching Colors for its treble~mid performance and out performs on the bass region. In short, E5 has the best freq. resp. and actual SQ among the three tested.
As you can see, E5 bass mode isn't really a carbon copy of the E3, but the similarity is still easy to see. In short, E5's bass mode is slightly warmer and darker than E3. You might notice the difference in sub-bass region (<50Hz), but to my ears it is very hard to tell since most IEM / earphone do not do well in this region anyway.
Hiss is quite noticeable on E3, but E5 does show a bit of improvement. First, unlike E3 which constantly hiss, the level of hiss on E5 vary depend on the volume you set. The higher the volume, the higher the hiss (and vise versa). Even in full volume, the hiss on E5 is still a bit less than E3. Here is a test with some IEM:
[UPDATE]Just went to FiiO's forum, they are already planning to redo some of the circuitry to address the hissing issue. The final production model is said to have even higher SNR (than the sample) which in term will result in less hiss.
The Hiss Test:
SE530 - The most noticeable (in the test), still slightly less than E3's
UM2 - Noticeable but less than SE530
TF10 - Very very faint / close to undetectable
EX700 - About the same as UM2
Atrio M5 - Slight and only after volume pass 2/3 (on the amp)
I did a simple test: I placed my cellphone ten inches away from the amp, than called it from the house phone while listening to music. For E3, interference is quite loud since it offers no shielding at all. On E5, I can still detect interference but it is faint and drowned mostly by the background music.
Driving high impedance 'phone:
PK1 and HR1 - to my surprise, E5 is capable of driving both earbuds not only to good volume, but to really good quality as well.
RE1 - Again, good performance overall.
iM716 - the hardest to drive of all my IEM. E5 on full volume is capable of making iM716 sounds decent even in HD mode, but still yet to be called great quality, especially on the bass.
The most out standing feature on E5, when compare to E3 or Colors, is its higher output power with such an small size. Unlike E3 or Colors which are only able to drive high impedance 'phones to relatively decent quality, E5 can easily give a rather good performance to 'phones that are generally considered to be harder to drive. Though it might fall short on driving those that are most difficult to drive, it certainly has given it best shot.
Flat mode vs. Bass mode:
Flat mode and bass mode can be changed on the fly. In flat mode, it sounds airy and neutral with good detail. In bass mode, it sounds warm to slightly dark with an increase of bass, most noticeable on the lower mid to upper bass region. I usually stick to the flat mode cause it works best with most headphones I tried.
The only real bug I found on my E5 sample is the power button, which is suppose to work as mute button in short press, isn't working as mute button at all. Even though it is nice to have a mute button, I personally don't find it to be much of any use either way. Hopefully this will be fixed on the final release (or maybe it is just an isolated incident). A bit of cosmetic improvement would also be good, but that is just me being picky.
[UPDATE] FiiO has decided not to implemented the mute button. They fear that the sudden / unexpected return to loud music might be harmful to the user's hearing.
If the sample in my hands is an true indication of what to come, than I think the finished production model will very well be able to beat E3's price / performance ratio easily. I doubt there will be any amp capable of matching such an performance for a mere $20. Of course, we have yet to see the final model nor the price, but I think asking Santa for an E5 this Christmas might turn out to be one of the best audio gift of the year
Reminder: The E5 in this impression is still a sample, according to FiiO. The final version might not be the same.
[Sample vs. Final Product] Updated Dec 13, 08!!!
The packaging b/w the sample and the final production are very similar.The major difference are 1) the length of cables are different from the sample (plus you'll get a L-angled plug on the short cable). 2) The manual comes in both English and Chinese. The amp looks identical to the sample from the outside, only when you turns it on that you can tell it isn't the sample (because it uses blue light for power and red for charging, which are opposite of the original indicating color of the sample).
I find the level of hiss on my E5 sample and final production to be almost identical. Don't feel disappointed yet, note that: the original test I posted above are conducted with E5 sample set to 90% of the maximum volume without any input (where hissing is at its loudest and most noticeable). In actual use however, I hardly ever go beyond 25% in volume when using sensitive IEM like SE530. As I said before, since hissing reduces as volume is lower, it is actual impossible to notice any hissing in use, even with hissing-prone IEM like SE530 or UM2.
I am happy to notice that the final production is actual better in SQ than the sample. Here are why:
Notice that E5 final production (*FiiO Final, in purple) has a better / more linear lower end bass response than the E5 sample (in blue) in flat mode.
Notice that instead of boosting mid bass like the sample (in blue), the final production is actually resembling more like E3 and boosting more sub-bass in Bass mode. Better yet, the final production is also able to retain more detail in bass mode too.
Overall, I'll said the final production has a better SQ than the sample. The E5 final production's frequency response is flatter, more linear in flat mode while having a bigger bass and more treble in bass mode. It is all good
Although slightly higher in price than most of us expected ($25 vs. $20), I think E5 is still very much a steal in the low end portable amp market. E5 has set a new standard of price / performance ratio for all the future amps to come. Must say a big thanks here to FiiO for bring us this wonderful gadget.