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FiiO E12 Review

post #1 of 306
Thread Starter 

 

FiiO E12 Mont Blanc 

 

 

 

Introduction:

FiiO is one of the most popular companies in the world of headphone audio. Their products come with unmatched performance for the price. They want to deliver great products that fans will love by listening to them on Head-Fi and other forums and even letting the fans vote on versions. The FiiO Mont Blanc is FiiO’s new flagship portable amplifier. It boasts an amazing amount of power while still being affordable. I would like to thank FiiO for the review sample. Now let’s see if the E12 lives up to the FiiO name.

 

Read more here:

http://www.pandatechreview.com/fiio-e12-review/

 

 

Videos:

Unboxing Video

 

Specs:

FiiO page

Weight: 159g

Input and output: 3.5mm

Impendence support: 16 Ohm to 300Ohm

Battery Capacity: 9.7 Wh (880 mAh/11.1V)

Output Power: >880 mW @ 32 ohms

THD: <0.005%

Unit Quality:

FiiO is quite famous for their great build quality in their black ‘stealthy’ looking designs. The E12 of course is no exception. The corners all come together seamlessly and it is not easily scratched. I wouldn’t recommend doing a drop test but the feeling of the E12 is just beautiful.

 

Accessories:

The E12 like FiiO’s other units comes with most accessories a starter would want. This includes a 3.5mm interconnect cable, a USB charge cable, User Manual, Warranty Card, Silica Gel packet, cloth carrying case, plastic dome standoffs, Binding bands, and the E12 itself. The binding bands the E12 comes with is quite large and will probably not work with most smartphones or Apple devices. It was meant for another FiiO device. I alerted FiiO of this and they said they will include normal binding bands along with the wide ones. I do not know if this is permanent or not. Some users have noted that their E12 cloth bag smells like gasoline. It seems to be the ones from Micca Store. Oil based products may have been near the E12 shipment.

 

FiiO also has a policy where accessories are free, which is quite nice of them. The only catch is that you must pay for the shipping which is $5. But all is well if you need more rubber domes, or interconnect cable. This program is up to FiiO and can end at any time. But as of this writing, it is in place.

 

 

 

Usability:

The Mont Blanc feels well in a user’s hands and has a weight of authority as well. Like past FiiO’s, you can bind it to your PMP or just use it as a travel amp. It isn’t too large, but it isn’t exactly small either. I have put the Mont Blanc through some slightly hairy situations and it has still come through unscathed. It handles like most amps basically.

 

But this is the section with the most problems of the E12 sadly. The E17 and E07K’s aux in matched well with the LOD and iPod’s as it allowed for the L9 to be used and to be ergonomic. The E12 does not have this. You can face the E12 both ways and try the L9 with the E12 but it still won’t work. The L11 is an option but there aren’t exactly any cheap and readily available very short interconnect cables.  If there was one, then this issue would be fixed. But the majority of those short cables are expensive. And most users seem to just use L3 and L9.

For more info on why this design is quirky, click here.

The moving parts of the E12 have a few issues. They are mainly nit-picks at getting perfection but still noteworthy to a review reader.  The sub switches of Crossfeed and Gain do feel a little sticky. The Alpen and Andes both had this. They just don’t feel high quality when you switch them. Using a pen to change the options can also get color on the switches. The bass boost switch on the other side is a bit loose. This leads to bass boost switching to be turned on when the device strap moves over it. It is a bit of a weird design in my opinion. Having switches that require a pin and then having a somewhat loose bass boost switch. The last thing is the volume pot. I’ve noticed that it will get squeaky and feel like it is rubbing against the metal on the bottom. I have to sometimes put force on pulling the pot up a bit to stop it from happening. This thing is often a problem with volume pots, but it should still be noted.

 

It has been also mentioned before, but the initial binding band did not work with iPod’s or other 1 cm thick or less pmp’s.

Bass Boost:

The bass boost of the E12 v1 mainly applies to the sub bass. I believe FiiO puts the number at 4-5dB increase in sub bass at around 50Hz. The E12 is a flagship amp and it acts like it. Bass Boost is put down in China as being non-purist and so here we have a new sub bass bass boost. Which is an opposite turn from the full on bass boosting usually present in FiiO devices. I would say the quality of it is very nice and adds a nice sub oomph to songs.

FiiO listened to fans who wanted a more pronounced bass boost and so from now on, a V2 model with a different bass boost will be coming out. This will also boost the mid bass but it won’t boost it to crazy amounts.

 

CrossFeed:

Leckerton has a great post on what Crossfeed is. Click the Blue hyperlink for it.

 

Well the E12 comes with crossfeed. It does what the info page says it does.

It reduces the surrounding instruments while giving you a more up front symmetrical vocal.

The pronunciation of the lows is also effected by crossfeed. They are less powerful.

 

FiiO E12 changes:

FiiO has since said that they will include the standard band to the E12 package along with the new bands. I do not know if they will change this later on to just one set of bands.

The bass boost will also be changed to a more pronounced one.

There have been no info on how to tell the units apart(without listening) yet. But as of February, the units on the market should be V1 sub bass boost. My review was done with V1 bass boost.

Notice:

You may have noted that I am listing a lot of nit-pick cons and quirks of the device and sparse sentences on good stuff. Well the thing is, the E12 is just a normal device. It being a normal flat working amp already makes up the list of positives. There really much to note on the E12 and its build and other things for pros as it is just a nice device already.

IEM noise:

There is some noise with IEM's. It shouldn't be a lot for most units

 

Sensitivity of Volume Pot:

While on the go, I have tried many times to see if the volume pot can be turned. With just one finger, the volume pot was very hard to turn. It may have been on purpose or just a by product of it being a small Alps potentiometer. Also, due to the way the volume pot is by design, it is much harder to turn at the 'beginning' but it loosens up as you go higher in volume. This also works in the interest of IEM users.

 

 

 

Testing:

Testing was done with IEMs such as the Heir Audio 4ai, 3ai, Tzar 350, Tzar 90, Dunu DN19, Vsonic GR07 Mk2, AKG Q701, Ultrasone HFI 580, and Sony MH1C’s.

It was tested with a Dual Wolfson WM8741 DAC lining out to the E12 with a RCA to 3.5mm cable.

Burn in:

I personally enjoyed the device more after an hour or two. But these findings have no backing data.

Power:

>880mW @ 32 ohms

 


 

 

 

Sound Section:

The FiiO E12 is a departure from how the Alpen and Andes sounds. While the former two have a warm and sweet sound that is more bass prone, the E12 goes for a more clearer sound. I would say that it is more ‘audiophile’ and more neutral as compared to the Andes and Alpen.

 

FiiO E12 and Audio-gd NFB 12.1

The vocals of the E12 are more laid back but more full than the Audio-gd’s. They are very smooth and the mid instruments are also much more pronounced. The background mid instruments come in a bit stronger than the audio-gd. The separation of the entire spectrum is also closer together than other various amps such as the O2 and MRB. The separation is still of course better than many amps, but it is noticeably smaller on the Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc also has a deeper more pronounced bass hit. It is a bit looser but spread out more.

The FiiO E12 sounds much cleaner than other FiiO amps. Much more clear in the vocals and instruments. The bass has also been done well where it doesn’t give the user a more heavier hit. The E12 of course still retains the general quality of FiiO’s other products but it has upped the notch.

 

FiiO E12 and FiiO E11

The highs of the FiiO E11 are more harsh than the E12. They don’t hold as well. The separation of the E11 is also considerably less than the E12. Mid instruments and vocals are more congested and scrunched up. The vocals of the E11 are more forward than the mids, but the mids of the E11 are not very smooth. The lows of the E12 are also much tighter than the looser ones of the E11.

The E11 boasts of a more fun sound with a nice bass response to go with the tracks. However its vocals and highs ultimately fail the E11 in being up to par with the E12. But of course, the E12 isn’t a replacement for the E11. The E12 is the flagship series.

 

FiiO E12 with Custom Project-H (Objective 2 w/ Burr Brown op amp and Cirrus Logic flagship DAC)

With the DAC being the CS4398, the FiiO E12 does a good job up against the O2. The O2's vocals are more forward and louder than the E12's. The depth on the E12's vocals are also much better. The seperation and soundstage of the mids(instruments) is also superior on the O2. The O2 is just a bit sweeter than the E12. The E12, I would say is a bit colder than the O2. Of course, colder does not equal more neutral. The O2 would be the more neutral amp, but the O2 accentuates more parts of the song than the E12 does. Now you are thinking, how can the O2 be more neutral if it accentuates more things? Well neutrality is a word that goes into the best reproduction of music and how neutral will theoretically reproduce the music better. And the O2 does reproduce it better than the E12. The overal transparency on the O2 is also better than the E12. However, the units are still nice and closely matched. I'm quite surprised how close they are. To some, the distance between the two may not warrant one or the other, and to some, the distance is huge(purists). But whatever it is, I think that the E12 does a very good job against the O2. It's only that while on the go, I personally prefer a more warmer sound than what the E12 offer.

 

 

General Impression Video:

 


 

 

Conclusion:

I think that some of life's challenges are reviewing products. A bigger challenge would be to review FiiO products. It is hard to really criticize their products when their price is so good for what is offered. The FiiO E12 Mont Blanc is a realization of FiiO enginuity yet again. They managed to put out a product at such a low price with good hardware and sound. The E12 is not going to wow people with high end units but for the price, it is a great unit.

 

Price:$120

 

 

 

More pics of FiiO E12:

 

More Pics: (Click to show)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by bowei006 - 2/23/14 at 10:13pm
post #2 of 306
Thread Starter 

700

FiiO devices are some of the most popular things on Head-Fi. I have been asked many repeat questions so I thought to make a Q and A section for them. All questions will be updated with updated answers if a user brings up something that isn't in them.


 

I have Headphones X, Y, Z. Do you think the Mont Blanc will help it?

 

Answer: (Click to show)

This is a very common question. My analogy for you would be. Say you are going to go ski-ing. You know nearly nothing about it. I then ask you if you think narrower ski's or shorter ski's or wider one's fit you. Or would a snowboard do better. And if so, what style of them would you choose. What brand and features?

 

You would probably think one thing. You don't know and that you would need to test it out.

 

This is the same thing. Yes, they will give you an "improvement" but that improvement can not be heard by some without practice and some may not think it is worth it. As we get more and more expensive equipment, a few things remains. Happiness and the ability to buy it. People up in the spectrum buy $10,000 units because it enahnces their headphones they love and what not. It isn't day and night type of differences but to them it is worth it and their experience says so.

 

Answering this question is hard because this is a niche hobby. There are many stores in the U.S with headphones and some headphone amps but they are so spread out. Testing is hard if not impossible for many.

 

So I can't answer that. Even if you were to ask if your (hard to drive headphone) were to benefit from it I can not truly know. Some may like it quiet and or may not really care for the difference.

 

Sadly, the only way to find out is to read up and take a swing/leap of faith if you truly want to find out.

 

I personally use an amp even with $50 headphones because I like the smoother sound but to others, it isn't worth it. 

 

What is a DAC and amp?

 

Answer: (Click to show)

 

What is the difference between lossy and lossless? Does it matter?

 

Answer: (Click to show)

What is a LOD and do I need one? If so, which devices can use one?

 

Answer: (Click to show)

 

Digital Coaxil or USB or optical? What should I use and why? Does it matter?

 

Answer: (Click to show)

 

What does it mean when a headphone "gains" from amping or is hard to drive?

Answer: (Click to show)

 

 


How do I switch Crossfeed on or change the gain?:

 

Answer: (Click to show)

With the FiiO logo facing you upright, the crossfeed and gain is to the right of the unit. To change it, you need to use a pen.


Edited by bowei006 - 2/11/13 at 8:22am
post #3 of 306

Great review. Looking forward to hearing one myself. Would prefer v1 bass boost though, it's much more unique and I think will be better appreciated for a wider range of people. 

post #4 of 306
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apo0th3karY View Post

Great review. Looking forward to hearing one myself. Would prefer v1 bass boost though, it's much more unique and I think will be better appreciated for a wider range of people. 

Thanks for the kind words. 

 

Well FiiO's point was made. You don't need to turn bass boost on. Just leave it off and its the E12

post #5 of 306

This may be just my opinions, but once you replace the stock op amp of the O2, it's no longer "transparent", or at least comparable to a stock O2.

 

So in that sense, I don't think what you're hearing from the O2 is "neutral" anymore.

post #6 of 306
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill-P View Post

This may be just my opinions, but once you replace the stock op amp of the O2, it's no longer "transparent", or at least comparable to a stock O2.

So in that sense, I don't think what you're hearing from the O2 is "neutral" anymore.
there is no stock op amp for the o2. There is the one jds labs uses and many recommended ones.

A warmer amp can be more neutral than a colder one. Cold and non accentuation doesnt exactly equal neutral. Its mentioned in the review.
post #7 of 306
Hey,
Nice review thread!
Keep it up!
thx, C J
post #8 of 306
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

there is no stock op amp for the o2. There is the one jds labs uses and many recommended ones.

A warmer amp can be more neutral than a colder one. Cold and non accentuation doesnt exactly equal neutral. Its mentioned in the review.

 

I agree a warmer amp can be more neutral depending on the listener.

 

However, what I'd like to point out is that the O2 you are testing is not the same as the O2 that many others have, so the comparison is a bit unfair.

 

Also to say, the creator of the O2 has measured a lot of op amps to put into the O2 before concluding that the one JDS Labs and many other mass-producers use is "good enough". So he already "implied" a stock op amp with his measurements.

 

I'm not sure which Burr-Brown chip was used in the O2 you mentioned, but of the many that the creator of O2 measured, some were measured to produce more noise than the stock op amp that JDS Labs uses. For all intents and purposes, when you have noise, then it's objectively no longer neutral.

post #9 of 306
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill-P View Post

 

I agree a warmer amp can be more neutral depending on the listener.

 

However, what I'd like to point out is that the O2 you are testing is not the same as the O2 that many others have, so the comparison is a bit unfair.

 

Also to say, the creator of the O2 has measured a lot of op amps to put into the O2 before concluding that the one JDS Labs and many other mass-producers use is "good enough". So he already "implied" a stock op amp with his measurements.

 

I'm not sure which Burr-Brown chip was used in the O2 you mentioned, but of the many that the creator of O2 measured, some were measured to produce more noise than the stock op amp that JDS Labs uses. For all intents and purposes, when you have noise, then it's objectively no longer neutral.

It is mentioned that my unit is custom. 

 

It is not unfair. I'm not testing E12 with Objective 2. I'm testing E12 with P-H which is equipped with an Objective 2.

 

A big portion of O2 users use different op amps or roll them.

 

There may be a BOM for a recommended and cost effective op amp. But that doesn't mean anything.

 

What noise? Noise is created when there is something faulty or an uncompatable headphone(doesn't match impedances). Having noise doesn't mean it is not neutral.

 

Op amps can't drastically change the entirety of the unit. 

 

Anyway, it is mentioned that this is a custom unit with slightly different configs. Of which many use. Different manu's apart from JDS equip different op amps into them. And many self builders don't use the stock BOM op amp anyway.

 

An O2 is a DIY type of thing with customizability, and thus it should be expected that there is some degree of difference.

post #10 of 306

I'm not sure if I can post a link to his blog here, but you can look up "O2 Op Amp Measurements" on Google to find more information about this. The creator of O2 went through great lengths to "prove" why the BOM included the "default op amp" (that's the way he put it).

 

If you're testing the E12 against P-H, then I think you should note that in the thread you linked to, because you wrote this:

 

"Added the E12 vs O2 section to my review"

 

Sorry for nitpicking, but I think there are already a lot of information thrown around, so a bit of clarity here and there is good if you want to help other people compare gears.


Edited by Bill-P - 3/3/13 at 7:56am
post #11 of 306
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

It is mentioned that my unit is custom. 

It is not unfair. I'm not testing E12 with Objective 2. I'm testing E12 with P-H which is equipped with an Objective 2.

A big portion of O2 users use different op amps or roll them.

There may be a BOM for a recommended and cost effective op amp. But that doesn't mean anything.

What noise? Noise is created when there is something faulty or an uncompatable headphone(doesn't match impedances). Having noise doesn't mean it is not neutral.

Op amps can't drastically change the entirety of the unit. 

Anyway, it is mentioned that this is a custom unit with slightly different configs. Of which many use. Different manu's apart from JDS equip different op amps into them. And many self builders don't use the stock BOM op amp anyway.

An O2 is a DIY type of thing with customizability, and thus it should be expected that there is some degree of difference.


Very sorry but........NWAV does not condone Op Amp rolling in the O2

1. there are two different (and very important!) noise specs listed in Virtually all Op Amp spec sheets. This is one of many reasons why audio Op Amps must be chosen with care.

2 . The discrete resistors used in every Op Amp circuit also create noise. The values of these resistors must be chosen with care to ensure the designer is adding more noise to the circuit.

3. This has nothing to do with matching the output impedance of the headphone amp to the headphone.

4. there are many reasons why Op Amp rolling can change to sound of the O2. Does the replacement Op Amp oscillate? Add more noise? more distortion? Slew rate too slow? Too much DC offset?

5. there's more ....... but you get the idea.....wink.gif
post #12 of 306
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post


Very sorry but........NWAV does not condone Op Amp rolling in the O2

1. there are two different (and very important!) noise specs listed in Virtually all Op Amp spec sheets. This is one of many reasons why audio Op Amps must be chosen with care.

2 . The discrete resistors used in every Op Amp circuit also create noise. The values of these resistors must be chosen with care to ensure the designer is adding more noise to the circuit.

3. This has nothing to do with matching the output impedance of the headphone amp to the headphone.

4. there are many reasons why Op Amp rolling can change to sound of the O2. Does the replacement Op Amp oscillate? Add more noise? more distortion? Slew rate too slow? Too much DC offset?

5. there's more ....... but you get the idea.....wink.gif

I know what he was talking about.

 

When did noise get brought into this? There is low end distortion at high gain, but that is it.

 

I've read the articles but there are a list of recommended op amps. He may not like it, but he knows its going to happen.

 

Either way, this is a custom unit using a amp that is a DIY project anyway.

post #13 of 306
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

I know what he was talking about.

When did noise get brought into this? There is low end distortion at high gain, but that is it.

I've read the articles but there are a list of recommended op amps. He may not like it, but he knows its going to happen.

Either way, this is a custom unit using a amp that is a DIY project anyway.

Trying not to start a war here, but you and Bill P started talking about noise in a public forum and I joined in!
Basically Nw guy said there is no point in "upgrading" the Op Amp in the O2 and some potential for making things worse! Anyway, you have clearly stated your O2 is not stock so I'll drop it.
post #14 of 306
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post


Trying not to start a war here, but you and Bill P started talking about noise in a public forum and I joined in!
Basically Nw guy said there is no point in "upgrading" the Op Amp in the O2 and some potential for making things worse! Anyway, you have clearly stated your O2 is not stock so I'll drop it.

He was talking about noise. I didn't really make much of a mention of it.

post #15 of 306
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

He was talking about noise. I didn't really make much of a mention of it.

NJM2068 is the Op Amp the designer likes and recommends. This is the Op Amp the designers measurements are based on.

Anyway, if you insist on getting defensive, fine.
I don't need the aggravation.
Technically you don't really understand what you are talking about WRT Op Amp rolling noise.
I'm out.
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