FiiO E9 Review
First Impressions: Hmm the shape is somehow different than what thought it would be and that dial really is big. Not sure if I think it’s too big. Plugging it in its immediately apparent that the little blue light is practically covered by that dial, it’s not exactly a big deal but it just seems wrong. The rest of the thing is really quite nice, feels sturdy and solid.
Plugging the E7 into the top of it, it slots in nicely but then nothing happened. So I pulled it out and plugged it back in. Nothing. Turns out you have to turn on the E7 separately from the E9. I really can only assume this was an engineering issue rather a decision someone made and even though it’s not really a big deal it’s irritating. Anyway time to let it run for a while.
Lows: On the whole the lows are ever so slightly enhanced, a little bit warm and little bit rich. It gives a really pleasant, gentle warming that is just lovely. Lows are smooth and deep. Okay but I do have to moan here, why can’t I use the bass boost? While in my head I know it must have been an engineering issue, a line out is a line out, not a let’s call it line out but hardware EQ it anyway. So I do get why, I really do but I don’t like it. Particularly I wanted to see what it could do with the Grado 325is with a bass boost and I can’t. I know it shouldn’t be bothering me but it is.
That aside the bass does come across as wonderfully natural sounding and I suspect that added tiny hint of warmth is coming from the Wolfson DAC in the E7. In fact the E9 in the lows sound really similar in tone to the E7. Obviously it is far more powerful an amp so can drive things far better that the little amp in the E7 alone.
Okay I still can’t get over no bass boost, v miffed.
Mids: Again the mids here really remind me of the E7 in tone but are just better. It’s not really surprising this is the case given it’s the insides of the E7 that are doing the thinking and turning that digital signal into analogue. That signal then skips the baby amp in the E7 and springs to life in the E9. The description of the mids therefore is going to be rather like it was for the E7, rich and liquid with a hint of added warmth. Not that I’m complaining it’s a very pleasant sound. The amp also has spades of power and can drive the HD600 beautifully. I feel like I’m not really saying much about the mids but reviewing amps I find so much harder than headphones. Amp’s make slight characteristic changes, they nudge things in a direction rather than change how things sound. They may enable a headphone to come to life but that potential has to be there in the first place. Assuming that potential is there then the E9 really makes the most of that DAC in the E7 and shows up how much better the DAC is than the amp in it. The mids are very clean, very clear and very, very pleasant.
Highs: A bit like the E7 the highs are not as shimmery and delicate as I might like but they are a big step up from the E7. There they have far better detail retrieval but still not totally perfect. If I’m honest they still have a tendency to edginess to emphasis detail and on the treble happy Grado’s it’s really not something that’s needed. Sticking on the HD515 though is a different story, they don’t have the clarity of the other full size cans I have and that slight crisp edge really works for them. In fact the E9 really does wonders for the HD515, throw enough power at anything and they tend to improve in my opinion. I would prefer things to have a more delicate nature in the highs but I guess you can’t have everything and it’s not like they are bad or anything, just not styled how I like it.
Interface: I can’t say I really like how the E9 operates, I can’t see the on light because its hidden by the big dial (however the big dial is really nice to use) and I don’t like that turning the E9 on or off doesn’t do the same to the plugged in E7. I know that they are all really petty small complaints but they really niggle me.
Power: There is absolutely shed loads of power here. With the HD600 on low gain, about 10:30 is as far as I get before thinking it’s getting unpleasantly loud. Why on earth there is soooooo much power available I don’t know as I cant imagine a headphone that needs it all, I actually wonder why it doesn’t have speaker out connections, the power is there. These have more than enough power to make even the deafest user happy.
Transparency: It’s good but maybe not perfect. That really shouldn’t be taken as a negative, more as expression of how it sounds and that’s leaning towards the warm and more intimate. I feel like I’m re writing the E7 review here. The Wolfson DAC is clearly at work here. The differentiator is that the E9 can obviously drive things better. The E9 opens things up more and makes things feel fuller and more effortless. You get the impression there is a lot of headroom and that’s because there is.
DAC: In my opinion the DAC here is what’s in control of the sound. As I said in the E7 review I thought the Wolfson WM8740 wasn’t the limiting factor in its performance and the E9 bares that out. Oh and btw the Wolfson WM8740 is the same DAC that iBasso are putting in the new D12. Yes that’s right the E7 has the same DAC as the D12. The E9 lets you get the best out of that DAC. It just does everything better than the 7 and lets the little Wolfson really stretch it legs. It really all feels so organic and naturally effortless. There is a reason people like Wolfson you know. And to think I used to go past their big shinny glass building regularly and think who the hell are Wolfson?
Value: Well the E9’s newness means I can’t seem to find it anywhere, I did manage to find it one place and actually in the UK too, PJBOX has it going for £75 so that seems pretty in line with the expected US$100 mark. I’m not sure I really have to say it but it’s a FiiO and have they made anything yet that hasn’t been heralded as great value? Tbh this could be the most interesting product they have made yet and if I recall there where stories of there going to be a speaker add on for this. Not really sure why this doesn’t have binding post itself as the power is there but hey. You get a lovely little slab of aluminium and it makes a wonderful noise. I’m not sure it’s such a great value proposition if you don’t have an E7 as it would always feel like something was lacking. However once this starts hitting the retail supply chain I’m sure ever seller will offer its as a combo deal for the 2 and there is just no way that’s not going to represent great value.
It would make a lovely Christmas present you know.
Conclusion: I feel like I’ve been a little wishy washy about the E9 as it’s not a jump out at you product. It doesn’t have any grandiose, dramatic OMG moments. It just quietly does its thing and makes a beautiful noise. To fuss, no drama it just does what it does. It’s so subtle that its only when you compare directly to the E7 amp you can see there is that difference. It’s just better.
Now here comes the rub. There are silly things that annoy me here and I’m not sure if they can be changed but if so, FiiO please do. The first thing is that no bass boost, now it’s something I’m willing to forgive in theory but I strangely find myself not really being able to let it drop. I doubt I’d even use it if I had it but the fact that I can’t means I desperately want to try it. That the bass and the way it offered three different amounts of boost was something I liked so much about the E7 even if I hardly ever used it. I can deal with not ever having had something but it feels like it was dangled in front of me and then was snatched away at the last moment. It makes me sad.
The other thing, and again it’s a small thing but why the hell won’t the E7 turn off. Granted I don’t know how you would make it do so but the integration of the two just screams at me that it should operate in unison. That I’ve also taken to using as a DAC/line out for my little desktop speaker set up means that stupid itunes needs to be restarted every time something has been switched off. It’s annoying and I’m not just leaving everything on, I did for a few days and it bothered me. I know there has to be a good reason for it but nevertheless I do not like it.
I feel like I’m being horribly unkind to the E9 as it really is a great device and when paired to the E7 it’s a killer combo. To guess about the costs and let’s say £75 for the E9, actually scratch that. Oh my, I have just noticed that PJBOX is doing the E7 & E9 combo for £114.25 (unusual figure if you ask me) which is pretty astonishing value. Think of it like you buying a little desktop amp/DAC and you get to pull off a bit of and use it as a portable amp too. There just isn’t anything product out there I can think of that does the same. Hell, that’s less than what I paid for the Icon mobile once you added in shipping and Parcel Farce’s abuse fee’s. What’s more is it sounds great and has more power than you can shake a stick at. There is no way anyone’s buying this and complaining it’s all too quiet for them.
Oh and most importantly it totally fits in with the decor of my desk. J