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My review of FiiO E7 portable USB DAC headphone amplifier

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

I need to get this off my chest first. This portable headphone amplifier does not actually amplify anything. That's right, due to a low gain that is not adjustable, you must turn these up to 54 out of 60 just to break even, giving you about 1db of actual amplification from 54 to 60.

The E7k and E17 both have adjustable input gain and so they can work with any level of source. The problem with the E7 is that because of the non ajustable gain they have selected, the output at volume set to 54 is 1 to 1. I did extensive tests with Iphone and other portable sources using both line out dock cables, and the included headphone to input cable and I can confirm, that hot plugging from my Iphones headphone, to the FiiO E7 that the volume and dynamics remain almost unchanged with the volume all the way to 60.

I did my initial round of testing with Beyerdynamic DT880 250ohm headphones and with the volume maxed, they were comfortably driven but not loud by any stretch. If you have more sensitive headphones with lower impedance you will get a louder sound but then again you would get the same without the amplifier as well so why buy it?

Some people believe that by nature of it's cleaner amplifier and more power on demand that this will increase the quality of the music delivered and give more punch and dynamics. Your mileage may vary but I used this with some of the best sub $500 headphones in the world and noticed very little difference. It certainly didn't sound bad but neither did it improve much.....until I turned on the EQ bass curve. With the bass turned up they began to deliver a little punch at the perfect frequency to sound good without that annoying upper midrange bass that muddies up the sound.

That was my experience using these as a portable amp.

That changes 100% when you plug these into a USB port as a DAC. The DAC has the gain set perfectly and suddenly this thing comes alive and it can actually drive even 250ohm headphones perfectly. In fact I threw my AKG Q701, notoriously difficult to drive headphones at it and while I could turn it up all the way without blowing my ears off, it was quite loud, especially considering the track I was testing was the quiet collaboration of The Dave Brubeck Quartet. If I had played Skrillex I would be deaf. This was without the EQ turned on. Windows 7 reported it immediately as USB audio device and it can only do 16/44.1khz. As a DAC the output is clear and while not windows friendly, it makes sense from an audiophile stand point that the windows volume control has absolutely no effect on the output of the E7 in DAC mode. Lowering a software volume control is similar to lowering the bitrate due to the changes in volume VS resolution. You must use the volume controls on the E7 or E9 when using as a DAC.

They charge via USB as well with a total time to charge about 10 hours. I didn't get the chance to examine the claimed 80 hours of battery but I believe it. I also used the E7 with my E9 desktop headphone amp/dock and it was seamless. Docking the E7 disabled any effect it had on music and it does not output to 3.5mm when connected, only to the E9's headphones. Inserting it into the dock is a little tricky because of the angle, and it will not go into the dock with the rubber/silicon case that comes with it.

On an aside, I have Skrillex on now and at 50 volume on Q701 I am nearly deaf but I have a huge smile on my face.

Pack ins include:
A velour storage pouch
Form fitting silicon skin
3.5mm angled to 3.5mm straight cable
USB to USB B mini connector
Instructions

The box it comes in looks suspiciously like an Iphone box and indeed when you open it up, the E7 is sitting on it's little tray on the top. Strangely enough the interior box is not as deep as the external, meaning if you push up on the bottom, it slides up further into the box and it looks funny.

So in summary, if you are looking for a DAC for use with a desktop or laptop and you want to use it as a headphone amplifier then the E7 will work reasonably well. It won't give you 24bit/96khz but it will give you a good quality audio signal and it will amplify it enough for the most power hungry of headphones as it drove my Q701 and DT 880 250ohm easily.

As a portable amp for mp3, Iphone, Ipod or anything using analog audio, it does not have a high enough gain to actually amplify the signal, which defeats the purpose of having a portable headphone amplifier. Fiio should have included functionality to adjust the input gain but they did not and there is no firmware update that fixes this problem. I cannot recommend this as a portable headphone amplifier.

The good:
Clean audio signal whether using it as a DAC or as a portable amp
Lots of included accessories, cases, velour storage bags etc.
Very good build quality, machined out of aluminum and solid construction
Amplification in DAC mode is perfect for hard to drive headphones
Can be used with the E9 desktop amplifier as a DAC
Good battery life
It's small, a good thing in a portable

The Bad:
As a portable amplifier it gives a 1 to 1 ratio with volume at 54 out of 60, meaning with the volume almost to full it does not actually amplify the signal.
Cannot drive power hungry headphones when used as a portable amplifier due to gain issues, works fine as a DAC though.
Does not include Ipod line out dock connector. It's a $10 extra
Packaging is a little wonky and the box can get pushed up into itself easily, squishing everything in shipping.
My OLED display had little spots on the inside of the plastic cover, lowered my opinion of quality control. Looked like water or debris.

Conclusion: If you want to use this as a portable DAC you will be happy. If you want to use this as a portable headphone amplifier you won't.

post #2 of 3

All preamps attenuate, 2v is very loud

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by KT66 View Post

All preamps attenuate, 2v is very loud


Not into 250-300ohms, which is the entire reason for my buying a portable amp to begin with. I don't ask that an amp be able to make me deaf, but on reasonably loud tracks it should be able to get louder than I would go, so that on quiet tracks with a lot of dynamics it can go as loud as needed.

 

Iphone or E7 at max volume is about where the E9 desktop amp is at 1/4. The fact that both the E7k and E17 have gain adjustments shows I'm not the only one who noticed this.

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