While I'm not usually too hard on brief review blurbs, this short review seems fairly half baked and *unreasonably* irked me. [Note: I know that this response is being a bit unreasonable.] This reaction is probably because I'm interested in the device, and I want to see more effective reviews of it. I think my comments on this short blurb might be longer than the review itself:
I. Structure & Consistency - Mike starts in his introduction talking about how the sound is the most important thing, and that other reviews spend their time on "ergonomics or features or accessories supplied." Then, he spends a single paragraph on sound and nearly two paragraphs (of a four paragraph piece) discussing the enclosure quality and ergonomics/size, the straight interconnect, and the battery pack functionality. In other words, he does expressly what he critiques in his first paragraph. His last commentary in the review itself is on the build quality of E18 enclosure - not the kind of takeaway to leave your reader with if your review is focused on the sound!
II. Example, Comparison & Analogy - He's comparing the E18 with ....well, that's a good question. It doesn't feel like there's any structure or criteria for comparison. One minute he's mentioning the FiiO with dedicated DAP's (albeit with the disclaimer that he's "not even doing a comparison" versus higher priced DAPs); the next he's comparing it against other FiiO portable amps.
The E18 needs a comparison against it's direct competitors, for sure. Lets get a comparison against the Venturecraft DAC Amps and the V-Moda Vamp Versa, and against Android compatible portable DAC/amps. It also should be compared directly against mid-fi portables (X3, iPods/iPhones, the DX50, etc. are certainly fair game). Most importantly, the E18 needs to be compared to **the stock sound of the DAC/Amp in the Smartphone itself.** This is an upgrade device, and it should be compared against what it's upgrading.
However, making the first example in a review be an Altmann Tera Player example is just really, really unfair. (Yes, it was an feature comparison to establish that sound > all. But, the first use of example fixes comparative expectations.)
There are even problems with internal consistency. One minute, Mike is saying that, "The E12-derived enclosure however needs a big deal of an improvement" and in the next he's commenting, "I think Fiio can do better than this. Especially the enclosure quality, while it was okay with the Fiio E10 two years ago, 2014 is coming and I think they need to invest in a new facility just to churn out high quality enclosures for Fiio’s products. Then they can go back to kicking ass." The basis of enclosure comparison shifts from the E12 to the E10 amp, which is important for Mike's time assertion that a two year old design is out of date - note that in his review of the Mont Blanc (linked below) from January of this year there were no particular complaints against the E12's design. In that review, it's described as "a nicer brushed aluminum packaging." What a difference a year makes!
III. Damning with Faint Praise - This review reads like a negative review, even though it apparently isn't. Like a lot of audio product reviews, it's does a weird amount of fence sitting. Mike's principle critiques are that the sound is has an emphasized low end and is lacking in resolution/micro detail. It's also not airy enough. But then he says:
"It does the job well, that is performing an external D to A conversion from an Android device."
"Overall I do admit that the E18′s sound is more enjoyable [than the E17]"
"Overall I’d give it a good score. It does the job and I can live with the sound."
Despite this, it seems that the review simply feels that the E18 doesn't "kick ass" as it were. It doesn't blow Mike away. How could the E18 have blown him away? If FiiO had "invest[ed] in a new facility just to churn out high quality enclosures for Fiio’s products." No. No. No. I thought the review started off the review saying that it was all about the sound? Shouldn't making it kick ass mean that they corrected the perceived problems in sound - not sticking the same thing in a nicer box?
IV. Mote and Speck - The E18 has some real problems. First and foremost, the Android ecosystem and hardware are so damned fractured that just purchasing the E18 is like spinning a roulette wheel and putting some of your money on Red 12. This is especially true if the place you bought it has a restocking fee, or if you got it off eBay. FiiO didn't do a good job testing or providing information on compatibility, even on the most purchased phones/manufacturer flagships. Moreover, there are also significant reports of interference problems that plague a large number of these types of portable Android compatible devices. (I had to send an iBasso D-Zero back for this exact reason despite loving the sound paired with my Note 2). Reviewers should take these problems on as directly as possible. These are deal breaking for a lot of people who would love to try this device out.
Mike can do way better than this! Check out his review of the E12 Mont Blanc (http://www.headfonia.com/fiios-power-pack-the-fiio-e12-mont-blanc/) which does spend almost the entire time on the sound quality and device capabilities. Quit phoning it in, dammit!
This is a product that people are pretty interested in as there is is more and more demand for digital device convergence. Look at the interest in the Vamp Versa despite it's high price point: it's clear that people would like to use their smartphone more as their audio player, and are willing to invest money into improvements that make that a more enjoyable experience.