This review came about after seeing countless posts and debate over what this little wonder amplifier
known as the 'Fiio E9' supposedly 'can' and 'cannot' do.
I decided to set out to my local audio store for myself and see how it would handle a bruising 4 hour
audition with 8 x headphones that span from the mid range to the top tier.
While it was impossible to test every single headphone known to man, I hope the following sample
sheds a tonne of light on how your headphone might stack up when used with the Fiio E9.
All headphones were run without activating the high-gain switch since all necessary volume
was achieved at a maximum of 12 'o clock. There is simply no need for this functionality on
the E9, it's use proved to attack the E9's weaknesses by reducing the sound-stage and congesting
the pace and rhythm. This is quite a common aspect for most amplifiers, I can second this as being
true for my Violectric V200 with most if not all headphones I've tried. Leave the gain switch alone.
Fiio E9 (brand new out of the box as a demo unit for the store room, 0 hours on it)
Violectric V800 DAC
ALO Mini to RCA cable
Burson 160 standalone amplifier (this was to be my constant to check how the Fiio E9 was faring)
Pretty simple, I only used 3 tracks (Cyndi Lauper's 'I drove all night', Keith Richard's 'Yap Yap' and
a Mozart Violin Concerto in G Major KV 216 Allegro from HD track.com) - each track was played
through with the designated headphone on the Fiio E9 and then played back once again on the
Burson 160, this was repeated twice and the observational notes were taken for this review.
Each headphone was given a final performance rating in relation to the comparison between
the amps ~ Very good, recommended, or poor.
This headphone fared pretty well as was to be expected being a low impedance
non-demanding headphone, compared to the Burson 160 bass impact was lessened
on the Fiio E9 yet it felt perfectly adequate for the AD900's airy character in the first
place. Volume was set at 9 'o clock for comfortable listening. The Fiio E9's warmth
made it's presence known with this headphone. Overall, a very transparent listening
experience free from any graininess. The Burson did little to run away in this match-up.
Verdict: Very good
Volume made it's way to the 10 'o clock position for comfortable listening levels, bass
performance was clearly superior on the Burson 160, the Fiio E9 reacting poorly to
this headphone through either the 3.5mm or 6.5mm jack, the bass was merely a
full thud lacking any sort of texture or extension. Switching over to the Burson 160,
the matter was immediately rectified and the bass was tight and prominent.
Soundstage, one of this headphone's strengths also played into the E9's weakness
for spreading and separating each note played - The W1000X also made it clear
that on some highs, the treble felt rolled off on the Fiio E9.
We have a winner~! - This was the match of the day by far for reasons
that are beyond me. Switching back and forth with the Burson showed
very little difference. Volume was set at the 9 'o clock position.
Separation in particular was not any better on the Burson, even through
it's own low impedance jack. Performance suffered however for the 840
through the Fiio 3.5mm jack. The smaller jack in general proved to be
inferior in most occasions for all headphones tested.
Verdict: Very, very good ~ thinking about an 840 and E9? Go now!
This headphone proved to be the difficult child today, liking neither
the Fiio E9 or the Burson, it was also the sole candidate that insisted
on hissing and making all sorts of subtle yet audible noise when not
playing but fiddling with the volume control. The 3.5mm once again
proved to be useless and so back on the 6.5mm jack the Fiio E9
was thoroughly bested by the Burson 160 in terms of detail
separation and coaxing some treble extensions from the capricious
TMA-1's. Perhaps, I've spoiled the review ~ I found the TMA-1 difficult
to like because it failed the very first essential criteria ~ clarity ~
or lack thereof in this case, it's pairing with the E9 did it no favors.
Verdict: Poor, but then again that may not be the E9's problem
Beyerdynamic DT 880 (250ohm)
Once again the E9 proved that it could drive this demanding headphone
to any volume desired, all of that even before 1 'o clock on the volume
dial. Passages felt fast through the E9 compared to the Burson's
relaxed presentation and pace. Sound stage also suffered through
the E9, it managed to draw some width but it was not as deep or
as convincing as the Burson 160. Overall, this was the first surprise
of the day in that it powered them reasonably, unfortunately the
dynamics were not up to the level of the Burson. The level of
clarity however was almost a dead-heat, once again the E9
showed excellent grain-free reproduction across the board.
Audeze LCD-2 (revision #2)
The big Audeze LCD-2's volume was set to 11 'o clock.
Instantly being quite the mid-centric headphone, the most
apparent change was the forward presentation from the E9
- some would say, too forward, as in 'Grado forward'.
Th rich, concentrated lushness that LCD-2 is renowned for was
diluted through the Fiio E9 - the bass impact again leaning
towards a one note thud, overall, it was all perfectly listenable
but the Burson 160 managed to better it convincingly across
most tracks. Once again, the higher the resolution of the
track ~ the more the Burson started to lengthen the gap.
Verdict: Satisfactory. If you buy an LCD-2 and you cannot upgrade
the E9 for awhile, don't worry, it won't be as bad as you think.
Volume was set to 11 to 12 'o clock depending on the track.
This was a very pleasant surprise, by now you're already guessing
my next turn on words. Yes, the Burson 160 showed more detail,
it particularly seemed to interpret guitar through the HD650 more
convincingly than the E9 in terms of tone, cymbal decay was also
more extended and satisfying through the Burson, however the
E9 on less than super high quality tracks ~ bridged the gap ~
and the HD650's forgiving signature on the E9 seemed to be more difficult
to pick on Cyndi Lauper than with some of the numbers from
HDtracks.com in 24bit/96Khz.
Verdict: Recommended, quite a good match ~ yes it surprised - a lot.
Some Head-Fi members from the 'High End' forum may be brandishing
their torches ready for a lynching right about now
Again, I cannot reiterate this enough ~ 12 'o clock on the dial and the
volume was high enough to definitely vibrate my ear drums.
Dynamically speaking? Ahh not so good, then again it was saved by
the fact that it's classier counterpart - the Burson 160 - did not put
up much of a show with the HD800 either. Sound stage began to
grow and emanate on the Burson while on the Fiio E9 it failed
to materialize in the first place. Still, the pace through Mozart's
Allegro was quite satisfying on the E9 and overall while it did not convey
the true ability of the HD800 ~ it did not make a mess of it as
anticipated - I can think of a few other amps for more money
that certainly have performed not as notably as the little Fiio.
Yes, we're looking at you Nuforce Icon
*Updated 4th December 2011*
* Violectric V181 replaced the Burson 160 as the comparative amp
for the following two headphones:- Pro 900 & DT990 600ohm.
Ultrasone Pro 900
Volume dial on the E9 was set to 9 o clock. This headphone
is renowned for it's big textured bass and somewhat recessed
mids, the V181 amplifier revealed this to be quite true, lots of
leakage over from the upper bass region into vocals. The E9
however with it's forward presentation made this less prominent
- to my ears the Fiio E9 was a better match! Alas, the Pro 900's
bass took a hit, there was less of it and the quality suffered
compared to the German V181. A real dilemma for those
considering this combination. It will make your Pro 900 more
versatile outside of electronic beat based music but the bass
performance on it's own may disappoint.
Verdict: Recommended, especially if you want to use your Pro 900
for a bit of everything, vocals were reasonable.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 (600-ohm)
This headphone is one prickly pear having already refused to perform
with an SPL Phonitor and Sugden Masterclass HA4, this one is my
very own and I was starting to sweat after this realisation - would this
headphone like any amplifier I had on offer?
Volume was set to 12 o clock on the Fiio E9 for maximum volume.
Thankfully both delivered in this instance, the Violectric V181
sounded more forward than the E9 which was quite unusual
given that the Fiio has been the more forward amp in most
match-ups up until now. Transparency and background detail
also went to the V181 but the E9 held it's ground with this 600ohm
beast - keeping the DT990's attributes in check, big mid-bass to rival
the Pro 900 (while lacking the Pro's sub bass signature) and the highs
were nicely extended. The real difference was in the details, you could
hear things in the musical background on the V181 like a faint guitar chord,
a drum snare here or there, while on the E9 - that detail disappeared
Verdict: Recommended, it deserves the credit for powering the big
Beyer and delivering a coherent performance, no harsh highs at all
to my ears which is a revelation considering this can has a reputation
Hopefully this round-up has cleared up a few debates
1) The Fiio E9 will positively rip your head off with blaring volume using an HD800 on low gain after
you pass the 2 o clock position.
2) If you think of headphone amplifers as just a means of increasing volume. Then the E9 is the
best thing since the invention of the wheel and sliced bread. Look no further.
3) The real picture is that once you head into $500+ headphone territory, it's not about volume,
it's about letting those little nuances, details, tiny differences that make-up a high end headphone's
personality to shine through the music as it passes through the amp.
Sadly, this is where the E9 hits a wall, it cannot convey the true signal from a Chesky or Linn Records
24/96 analogue signal, somewhere in it's design the message is muddled up somewhat. What comes out
at the headphone is more often than not, perfectly acceptable ~ but it would make no sense to spend your
hard earned cash for such headphone only to hear 80% or so of what it can do. Sound stage, detail,
separation and especially Prat will suffer immensely.
Strengths ~ Powerful, able to deliver ample volume to any headphone on the market today,
grain-free presentation, well built, light and beyond good value for the price. Will suit a lot of
Weaknesses ~ It will make any flagship loud but you're not hearing what it can do anyway,
scratchy background noise while fiddling with volume when not playing music.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to George at Addicted to Audio in Melbourne for giving
me the opportunity, time and space to conduct this 4 hour long audition today. He deserves a
big thank you for being a huge part of the headphone community down here. I'm not the only
one who appreciates this I'm sure.
Edited by Gwarmi - 12/3/11 at 3:01pm