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[REVIEW & MOD] FiiO L6 LOD for Sansa Fuze

post #1 of 67
Thread Starter 

Well, I have had this little LOD for a few weeks now.  I got mine from eBay for about US$20 with worldwide free shipping, which is a pretty good deal.

 

FL6-1.jpg

 

FL6-2.jpg

From left: FiiO L6, L3, L1.


Construction wise, it shares some similarity to the Oyaide HPC-D3.5 iPod LOD I have (= FiiO L3), except the dock itself is slightly bigger since it also needs to house a PCB with two coupling caps and jump the two pins needed to activate the line-out mode on Fuze.

One of the main difference between a Sansa Fuze line-out compare to other DAP’s line-out is that Sandisk doesn’t implement any coupling caps in the signal path. Output from the Fuze DAC does carry a certain DC voltage (about 1.4v), known as DC offset. While music signal are in AC form, the DC offset can still get amplified and send to the headphone. In minor cases, it just reduces the headphone performance; but in serious cases, the coil in the transducer can get out-of-alignment or even overheated and destroy (balanced armature is especially vulnerable). A coupling cap can filter out DC voltage, so there should be one in each channels. However, coupling caps can also affect sound quality, but we will leave it for later discussion.

The cable used on L6 is the same as one on L3. It is PCOCC-A cable from Oyaide, thicker than those on L1 but still fairly flexible. End-to-end the LOD is about 16.5mm or 6.5 inches. Overall the build quality is quite decent for its price.

So some of you might hear that the Fuze’s SQ is actually quite good, which is in fact true. So why use a LOD + amp anyway? The idea has less to do with increasing the driving capability, since there are actually very few really hard-to-drive IEM in the market and Fuze is still capable of giving a very decent performance even when the IEM is a bit demanding. In any case, you can still amp the headphone-out since the signal is pretty clean. However, the actual goal is to squeeze out every single bit of SQ possible, even for the last 5% - to see how good it is going to get. Does it make any financial sense to double or triple the cost of a Fuze just to get the last 5%? Absolutely not, but I don’t get into this hobby so I can make sound financial decision. That being said, if you don’t really have a decent amp or fairly resolving headphone, then perhaps this will serve no more than an interesting read and as any responsible TV show will say: “Don’t try this at home.”

 

FL6-3.jpg

From left: diyLOD with Black Gate, L6, diyLOD with Nichicon ES.


How does FiiO L6 sound? In sum, “average”. By comparing headphone-out and L6, both feeding 3MOVE, the quality is comparable. Nothing is gained nor lost, at least I can’t tell much difference by A/B’ing them. Even if there is a difference, it is too subtle to say in absolute. I have made a few LOD for Fuze in the past and I know if you choose the wrong coupling caps, the sound can degrade even on the line-out. My personal favorite, the one that sounds best, is Nichicon MUSE, bi-polar ES series. I also tried the infamous Black Gate 22uF Hi-Q – Decent, but don’t find it quite as good as Nichicon on revealing detail, bass punch, or soundstage (not to mention that it is very expensive and hard to find). In fact, I even prefer the lesser sounding Nichicon VS series (also bi-polar) over the Black Gate just because it is a little more dynamic and exciting.

 

FL6-4.jpg

 

FL6-5.jpg


So what are the coupling caps in L6? That are SMD tantalum capacitors (10uF if I read it right), the kind that audiophiles want to avoid as much as possible in the signal path. Since L6 isn’t marketed as audiophile LOD (which can cost hundreds for a premier iPod LOD, last I checked) and due to size constrain, I guess it is reasonable to use tantalum caps. However, there are certainly ways to improve the SQ, in theory anyway.

The idea is to replace the default tantalum caps for something better. If you are willing to drill holes, even Nichicon can be used. Since I already have a few diyLOD for Fuze with caps sticking out on the back, I want to keep the external look as original as possible this time. So my plan is to replace the tantalum caps with niobium-oxide caps (OxiCap by AVX), which as I was told by another member who also experimented with different coupling caps that the niobium-oxide caps are pretty decent. Unfortunately the OxiCap I have (100uF) is too big to fit inside, so instead I have to order a few more that are compatible with the space on the PCB, including 10uF and 47uF variation. To make it more interesting, I also ordered some 0.0068uF WIMA polyester film cap for bypassing the OxiCap. I would love to use bigger capacitance on the WIMA caps but anything bigger will not fit the inside of the dock. This also means using the WIMA alone will not give enough capacitance to lower the corner frequency. Thus the reason to use it for bypassing.

Well, the new caps have not arrived yet, will update once I finish the experiment.
 

post #2 of 67
Thread Starter 

The caps just came in this morning, here is a simple guide on what I have done:

 

L6M-01.jpg

AVX's OxiCap 10uF and 47uF, WIMA 0.068uF film cap.

 

 

L6M-02.jpg

There is a foam pad underneath the PCB. Remove it only if you want to use WIMA cap for bypass.

 

 

L6M-03.jpg

Size wise, 10uF OxiCap is a direct replacement. 47uF OxiCap is fatter, but same length.

 

 

L6M-04.jpg

I choose to use 47uF since I am planning to go all out. Bigger (capacitance) OxiCap won't fit in, so 47uF is the best choice size wise. NOTE: Make sure the polarity is correct!

 

 

L6M-05.jpg

Bend the legs of the WIMA caps as shown. Also a good idea to put some masking tape between the PCB and WIMA cap. You don't have to worry about polarity on the WIMA.

 

 

L6M-06.jpg

One side finished.

 

 

L6M-07.jpg

Underneath.

 

 

L6M-08.jpg

Both sides are done.

 

 

L6M-09.jpg

Underneath.

 

 

L6M-10.jpg

Since I choose to use both OxiCap and WIMA, I need to file down some plastic on the inside. If you use 10uF OxiCap, there won't need any mod on the case as long as you solder the cap in right position.

 

 

L6M-11.jpg

Glued back and finished.


Edited by ClieOS - 9/25/10 at 4:24am
post #3 of 67
Thread Starter 

I did a quick A/B when one side is finished with the OxiCap, then another quick A/B when the WIMA cap is in. Basically, the SQ improvement from tantalum cap to OxiCap is pretty obvious. It becomes less mid focus, better extended to both end, great bass response, more detail and better in soundstage. Adding the WIMA cap improves the top end a little bit, making it more crisp and a little more airy, but nothing major. If you don't feel like adding the WIMA, I think the OxiCap alone should be more than enough.

 

After the mod is completed, I A/B'ed the new L6 against phone-out and the two diyLOD with Nochicon caps and Black Gate (via 3MOVE + HifiMan RE0 and Radius DDM). Overall the sound signature is closest to Black Gate, but improves upon it. As mentioned before, the new L6 is less mid focus and more extended on both ends compared to the original tantalum caps. Since the tantalum caps sound very close to the phone-out, the finding is also true when compared the new L6 to the phone-out.

 

Between the two diyLOD, Nichicon is airy, more analytical, dynamic and spacious, while Black Gate is warmer, darker, almost phone-out like but with better extension on both ends and a little more detail. The new L6 is closer to Black Gate as it is also a warm sound. While the treble is a little bit better on the new L6, the major difference between it and the Black Gate is on the bass body and especially on texture. Suddenly I hear bass texture that I have never heard on phone-out, Nichicon or Black Gate. It is like finding new note in the same music I have heard for many times. In that sense the new L6 is definitely more resolving than the other LOD I have. Compared to Nichicon, the new L6 is just a tad more aggressive on the upper mid / lower treble, however the only real downside I can detect is that the soundstage on the new L6 is not quite as wide as the Nichicon. Overall I'll say it is a tie between the two, with Nichicon wins on the treble and soundstage and OxiCap + WIMA win on the mid and bass.

 

As I have mentioned before, we are talking about the last 5% here, so take everything with a grain of salt.


Edited by ClieOS - 9/25/10 at 5:31am
post #4 of 67

Bump for being a timely and useful read.

post #5 of 67

Hmm, might do this to my L6, only problem is I'm having problems finding the caps, do you know any good places to buy them? (that ships to the UK)

 

Edit: Never mind, found a place online


Edited by Will13 - 11/12/10 at 5:15pm
post #6 of 67

Didn't realize L6 existed until I was browsing through Fiio products.

Bump for ClieOS's (surprising?) tinkering skill - another talent I'd like to improve.

post #7 of 67

Why do you have the capacitors in parallel, why do you need the film cap?

post #8 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by High_Q View Post

Why do you have the capacitors in parallel, why do you need the film cap?

They are in parallel because that is how caps are supposed to connect to each other. For caps, parallel connection increases capacitance while series decreases capacitance - which is opposite for resistor.

 

There is no actual 'need' for the film caps, per se. Film caps are generally considered to be the best choice for coupling cap because they are more transparent, but they are also much larger in physical size compared to electrolytic cap for the same capacitance. So to use film cap (with enough capacitance) alone while trying to maintains a minimum size is impossible. The theory is to combine film cap and electrolytic cap (OxiCap in this case) to get the best of both worlds. The is no guarantee that such combo will work every time, so part of this thread is about experimenting with these caps. However, even without the Wima, OxiCap alone will provide enough capacitance for the purpose of coupling, so there is no actual need or requirement for the Wima, except trying to improve upon the OxiCap.

 

 

post #9 of 67

I have been ready quite a few threads on this subject on this and other forums. It looks to me like it is very easy to purchase a low quality LOD cable and this thread helps to avoid this.

 

I am also interested in finding out if it's possible to add a power input to such a device so that I can use this in my car and power the Sansa Fuze V2 from either a simple 12V adapter plug or via a USB connection which already exists in my car?

 

I really don't see any of these being available.

 

Is there a technical reason?

 

Something like this:

 

http://www.cablejive.com/products/plusUSB-Line-Out-Dock-Cable.html

 

or this

 

 


Edited by staatsof - 3/24/11 at 7:06am
post #10 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by staatsof View Post

I really don't see any of these being available.

 

Is there a technical reason?


It already exists and it is called 'PowerDock for Sansa' from Griffin Technology.

 

Two problems though - 1) It has been discontinued for a few years now, but sometime it pops up on eBay. 2) It doesn't sound as good as the headphone-out or FiiO L6 because of bad cable and caps used inside the dock. You will need to replace/mod them to get a good sound.

 

In case you wonder, yes, it is possible to make a LOD with USB port for power and line-out. Just that it requires more pins soldering, which is quite dreadful even on a good day.

post #11 of 67

Thanks for replying.  Yes I have read your posts and although I have done "some" fabrication of electronics in my day thius looks so darn small I think I might do very well even trying to add USB to a FiiO6 cable. 

 

I am ordering one of those today.

 

I also have ordered the Griffin power dock.  I will have to look for your suggested modifications for that piece.

 

Have you ever heard of or seen the Sansa Base Station?  Very hard to find now but it is supposed to work with the Fuze but I don't know about V2 which I have. That has a remote as well.

 

But back to the original idea which is for the car. I just found this FM transmitter unit which also has line-out, line-in and USB ports. I wonder if the lin-out is any good or could be made better?

 

Have you heard about this one?  It's only $10 now so it's low risk.

 

http://www.dlo.com/files/media/transfer/doc/transdockmicro_sansa_manual_gm4_071015.pdf

 

The quality may be dubious even if the line-out function does work. I'm not primariuly interested in the FM transmitter feature except for cars with no Aux-in.

 

Thoughts ?

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ClieOS View Post




It already exists and it is called 'PowerDock for Sansa' from Griffin Technology.

 

Two problems though - 1) It has been discontinued for a few years now, but sometime it pops up on eBay. 2) It doesn't sound as good as the headphone-out or FiiO L6 because of bad cable and caps used inside the dock. You will need to replace/mod them to get a good sound.

 

In case you wonder, yes, it is possible to make a LOD with USB port for power and line-out. Just that it requires more pins soldering, which is quite dreadful even on a good day.



 

post #12 of 67
Thread Starter 

L6 might not have enough pins for your to solder. In that case, you might need the Ridax connector to work with.

 

I have read about one FM transmitter designed for Sansa but never actually seen any in real life. I don't use my Fuze in car so I am not that much interested in one.

 


Edited by ClieOS - 3/25/11 at 11:49am
post #13 of 67

Thank  you.  Which Ridex connectors on that page would be the most useful. That's assuming I can get a nano-robot to assemble/modify this thing ... :)

post #14 of 67
Thread Starter 

Thick/snap (SD_A/E) is easier for assembly. Thin (SD_TS/SS) is better in size but not so much if you want an extra USB in there.

 

post #15 of 67

I really don't like the sound of Fuze, everything sound so muddy to me.  I like Samsung P3, Sflo2, imod. I've tried cowon, but not really satisfied.  Maybe my ears are spoiled, but Fuze I didn't like before I've heard quality sources.  You guys believe this type of LOD will improve the quality significantly?  Lets hope bypassing the amp will help increase its sound quality.


Edited by High_Q - 3/26/11 at 5:38am
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