Cons - Gain switch and crossfeed are recessed (needs pointed object to switch)
I needed something to power my Superlux HD330. My smartphone back then is a Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8. Audio from the phone is quite clean and decent but I did not think that it's powering the 150 ohm HD330 properly. It's loud enough at close to max volume but "loud" is not necessarily equal to "properly driven". Long story short, I sold the A3 (E11K Kilimanjaro) a few weeks earlier and upgraded to the E12 Month Blanc. Mind you, it's twice the price of the A3 but is it worth it? Find out below.
The E12 comes in a premium package that looks and feels nice. What you get:
Inside the box is a black cardboard container that has a black, rough leathery finish. Really nice.
The E12 protected by a foam on the cardboard cover
A short interconnect. Really good for clean-looking stacks.
Rubber pads for stacking (I believe these are better than rubber feet)
Rubber bands also for stacking
A soft carrying case for the E12 if you want to carry it solo (non-stacked)
Quick start manual and warranty certificate
SPECS, DESIGN, AND BUILD QUALITY
The design is intuitive enough. Now that it has been discontinued, its page is no longer available at Fiio.net. Please check the details here to see specs, buttons and ports placements, and how it can be stacked. My only gripe would be the recessed gain and crossfeed switches. I understand that the gain might be recessed for safety purposes. With 850mW of output power, it's dangerous to accidentally switch to high gain for the risk of hearing damage or even gear damage if the headphones are sensitive enough. But the crossfeed function should be accessible enough. Or they could've tightened the gain switch to avoid accidental switches. Just my two cents.
Crossfeed does what it does but I don't think it's very useful. It's supposed to work for older recordings, especially for older jazz recordings where a lot of musical elements are too separated to the right or left channels. I get that but in my opinion, it takes away the "authentic" sound and feel of those recordings once crossfeed is engaged.
As usual with Fiio, build quality is really solid. It's hefty in a sense that you feel you're holding something significant. The brushed aluminum finish also helps minimize scratches and is very durable, not a scratch after a few months of use.
IMPORTANT NOTE: After a few on/off switches to the device, I noticed a second "click" sound after the actual "click" when turning it on. At first I had my unit replaced by the seller. When the new unit also had this issue, I decided to contact Fiio. It turned out that due to its beastly output power, Fiio implemented a relay switch to avoid on/off transients from creating unwanted (or even headphone-damaging) "pops". I'm sure that seasoned audiophiles around here already know this but I just wanted to share it to regular music lovers like myself. Just be assured that your unit is not defective if you experience the same.
I agree with one of the masters, Brooko. Amps shouldn't be tested for the usual sound elements (lows, mids, highs, soundstage, etc.). Headphones should. But the question is, should they be tested for sound improvement? In a sense, yes. If a headphone is properly driven, then you might observe improvements in those elements.
So is it worth twice the price of the Kilimanjaro? A resounding yes! It's very neutral to my ears. I mean, the A3 has some warmth...or so I thought since I tested the E12 and noted the difference. Thereafter, the A3 sounded warmer than I first heard. And the soundstage! The improvement in instrument separation is significantly noticeable. How about the bast boost? In my opinion, bass boost for both the A3 and E12 are cleanly implemented, where it adds the needed impact and warmth to some recordings but do not bleed to other frequencies. Due to the improved soundstage though, it sounds cleaner on the E12.
Pair it with anything and I'm pretty confident, what you feed is what you get, with more neutrality and a clearer perception of soundstage than you previously heard.
On my last review (I believe it's the Superlux HD330), I told the community that I won't be reviewing anything anytime soon since I'm back to my old music lover self (non-audiophile). Oh well, I enjoy this stuff. And though I'd like to stick with best-value budget gear, I felt that I owe it to the community to express my thoughts on the E12.
At the time of this writing, I already sold the E12. Now I have my sights on the A5. Specs are very tempting but I don't have the need for it yet.
The E12 is truly a worthy flagship. Does it make the A3 obsolete? No, definitely. The A3 is still a great-value (as Fiio decided to keep it in circulation, together with the A5). But a the top of Fiio's portable amps, the E12 was the undisputed king. Highly recommended. Grab it while you still can!
That's about it, plain and simple. Next stop - my review on the Fiio EM3.
Pros - Organic and very enjoyable at conveying the recording.
FiiO Mont Blanc for IEM E12a $159.99
When you pick up the Mont Blanc you feel like you have something substantial in your hand. Not that is is overly heavy, no, it is conveys the impression that this thing is meant to last, is not some cheap plastic wrapped trifle and it is a compact well made amp that looks like you could take it with you to a zombi outbreak. And this is important, how it looks and feels but we also want something that performs, that sounds good, the boosts our enjoyment of music that isn’t just another addition to be set on the shelf or sold off when the mood strikes. So I put the Mont Blanc, referred to MB from here on, to the test, the musical test.
There is little music I don’t enjoy, if it is well recorded from classical, jazz, western, rock, a lot of rock and even new age on occasion. The MB fed by the X5 or the X1 (the X1 is a fun little dap that for 119 dollars is a great buy), revealed plenty of layers to the sound.
For monitors I used the RE 600, PortaPros, ESW10 Jpn and the JH13 Pros. I find these give me the range I need but will add that the MB had no trouble powering the Fostex TH900.
With jazz I often enjoy Scott Hamilton’s, No Bass Hit for the drum solo. The MB kept pace with this. The drum strike and decay was conveyed and even on the louder passages, there was no collapse of the sound field. There is a whir of the tape machine while recording this CD and I suppose it was analogue or some fan somewhere but it requires resolution to ferret it out. There is a short quiet period in the drum solo and during this time I could hear the faint whir, which gets to the bottom of detail resolution.
Hall acoustics on live recorded music like Neil Young’s 92 recording of all acoustical instruments is pulled in but not in like close but in like you feel you are really hearing the event. People sounds, claps, the “we love you” all comes through without having to listen hard, it is resolved, present and felt on a emotional level.
I noticed that the high frequencies do not have a stridency that can be noticed on some amps, they are clean and the mid frequencies are full but not overly so. Bass, clean and the notes do not bleed into the other frequencies, which is so important to get right. I won’t say this sounds like my desktop amps but so what, it conveys the music, the song the fun and takes a good dap to another level and it can give you a little different flavor for an already fine integrated amp section.
It is important to note that this is not a cold sounding amp. It has an organic slightly warm tone that enhances many musical pieces and with so much digitally recorded music, this is a plus. The strum of the guitar comes across like you often hear if you listen live. It isn’t just metal wires on a guitar, it is the waves of notes influenced by the acoustical space with the sound reverberating within that space and this is important as it adds to the life and enjoyment of what you are listening and after all, that is what this is all about.
I want to add this amp is easy to charge from the USB provided connection, solid as a small monolith of aluminum and I would think, lasting as long as you want to enjoy music and along with my impressions of a fine sound is a recommendation!