I'm sure just about everyone is familiar with Firestone Audio. They've recently come out with a miniature ultraportable amplifier that has been highly praised by the audiophile community in its native Taiwan -- the Fireye Mini. Currently, it is selling for 800 NT in Taiwan, which is less than $27 USD, although I've heard that it will retail for ≥$60 overseas. Firestone seems to have a lot of confidence in this product.
It appears that Firestone's Australian distributor has begun to sell the Fireye Mini down under, but as far as I'm concerned, it has yet to show up on North American shores, and no one on Head-Fi seems to have posted anything about it, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to give everyone a first look.
The Fireye Mini. Lives up to its name -- a size comparison with the Fischer Audio DBA-02.
Before I begin, I want to make a disclaimer; this is my first and only portable amplifier, so please take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I don't know what the performance of similar products out on the market are, save for the FiiO E1 and E7, which I listened to only once each.
Alright, the Fireye Mini. It is a TINY amp, and should definitely be one of the smallest out on the market. Basically, you take a FiiO E3, cut it in half lengthwise, and you get the Fireye Mini. It it housed in a jelly flexible shell (like some iPod cases) and comes in a multitude of colors -- Grey, Red, White, Purple, and Green. I bought mine in Red. The overall feel of the product is reminiscent of the Travagans "dogbone" amp, in form and function. At the top of the body, there's a loop that makes the Fireye Mini easy to carry around a key ring.
When you open up the cardboard box, you see that the Fireye Mini comes with a short 4" 3.5mm cable with L-shaped terminations on both ends, and another short USB-to-miniUSB cable for charging purposes, as well as a warranty card (1-year limited) for those of us in Taiwan.
The sparse included contents of the Fireye Mini.
Firestone is known for building pretty sturdy products --- the Fireye Mini isn't one of them. In order to keep costs down, Firestone did not use any plastic hard shell to house the electronics. Rather, everything is just housed in the soft jelly housing, unsealed. The PCB board is laminated with a thick plastic sheeting, but heaven forbid you spill anything on it, or sit on it. I'm assuming that Firestone just thought this thing would be so cheap that people would just go ahead and buy another one if a freak accident happened.
A look at the inside circuitry. (Not my photo. Taken from a Taiwanese forum, www.mobile01.com)
The Fireye Mini is strictly plug and play. There is no volume attenuator, so LOD cables are not recommended. The 3.5mm headphone plug is in the center of the left face of the amp, with the line-in port to its left. When you plug your headphones or IEMs in, a blue LED comes on the bottom-right corner, indicating that the Fireye Mini is on and amplifying its input signal. At the bottom of the amp, there is a miniUSB power input. Most people claim that on a full charge, the Fireye Mini can be used for 12 hours continuously without any trouble.
Another look at the miniscule Fireye Mini. Line-In and Headphone-Out are labeled on the bottom face (not shown).
As I've mentioned, I haven't listened to many portable amps so I can only compare it to the E1, which is slightly pricier here in Taiwan. To me, the E1 was very underwhelming. While attached to my iPod Touch 2G, the E1 didn't seem to amplify anything at all. Nothing sounded any different.
I can say is that the Fireye Mini feels significantly better as a portable amplifier. There seems to be better bass energy, better high end sparkle, and a noticeably more expansive soundstage --- pretty impressive for something so small. It doesn't seem to extend too far down low, and there's a slightly warmish coloration and very slight reverberation to every note, but because of that, there is a definite airiness that is constantly present, giving better instrumental separation to my music.
It's no wonder that it has been selling like hotcakes in Taiwan; here, audiophiles rate it better than the Fireye 1 and the FiiO E5. Is it better than the E7? No, of course not, but we're comparing apples to oranges here. Even so, when I listened to the E7 through its line-in off my iPod, it didn't particularly wow me all that much.
The Fireye Mini set up for music output off an iPod Touch 2G. The blue-lit LED indicates that headphones are plugged in.
To me, the best part about the Fireye Mini has been the soundstage. Sonically, the Fireye Mini has definitely been a pleasant experience. Again, I don't have enough experience with the various ultraportable amps out there to know which one truly is the best, but I don't demand extreme accuracy with my portable rig; I have my desktop setup for that. Rather, I need an amp that gives me a palpable dB boost, and improves the relatively bland sound characteristics of my iPod Touch 2G to make it sound more spacious, clear, and less fatiguing. The Fireye Mini does all of these things. Fit and finish aside, this tiny little amp has promise to be a hit with not only the Taiwanese but with all Firestone aficionados across the globe.
Here's to hoping the Fireye Mini makes it stateside in the near future.
Audio Performance (Using a 1kHz Sine Wave, 2Vrms Output, 24-bit/48kHz)
Frequency Response (from 40 Hz - 15 kHz): 40 Hz +0.1 dB, 15 kHz -1.67 dB
Noise (1 kHz, A-Weighted): -110.5 dB
Dynamic Range (1 kHz, A-Weighted): 110.4 dB
THD %: 0.0068%
Stereo Crosstalk: -96.0