Venture Electronics (VE) Runabout Portable Amplifier

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Venture Electronics (VE) VE Runabout Portable Amplifier

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Pros: Transparency, build quality, value, battery life, output power
Cons: Large, not really “portable”, weak gain setting, no accessories, better alternate options
For larger images (1200 x 800), click individual photos


My journey through Head-Fi has been interesting, and in my early days I was pretty naïve about what an amplifier did (wow – gotta amp everything - the increase in clarity, details, soundstage!) Over time, as I gained more knowledge, experimented and (more importantly) tested, I began to realise that those benefits I was sure I heard, had mostly come about by simply turning the volume up.  And with the amps I was using, I wasn’t volume matching when comparing.  Once I actually started comparing objectively, most of the time a lot of those differences disappeared. There are times when you absolutely need an amp (e.g. with the 320 ohm VE Zen and a weak source), but I’ve found it’s important to realise that an add-on amplifier has a specific purpose – to provide cleaner and more power when it’s required, or to lower the output impedance, or even to colour the sound to your liking.
Venture Electronics (or VE) is a 3 year old audio company based in Shenyang, Liaoning in the Peoples Republic of China. I was able to ask Lee a little about the company, and he has been very open and approachable – something I love to see when dealing with a manufacturer.  It really shows a lot about a company when they show pride in their own achievements, and are so open about sharing information with their customer base.
VE is relatively small (for now) with 5 employees, and currently have a very small product line (Zen 1&2, Asura and Monk earbuds, Duke IEM and the Runabout amp I’m reviewing today). I asked Lee about their core business, and he said they were primarily an internet company, and had developed more products than were currently on offer, but for now their current product range covered enough to cater for immediate development. Their goal long term is “to have the best budget and hi-end gear”, and it was refreshing to see some frank and honest comments in reply to some of my inquiries. I’m going to quote one of Lee’s replies, because it really does add to my impression of VE as a company.
“We see our fans, not just as moving wallets. I see our budget gear (like the Monk) as a walking ad for our brand, among our on-line community (people who love earphones, because they mainly they love the ART the earphones can deliver, like gaming, movie, anime and stuff. We believe the Zen is the best earbud in the world, and as we can sell the monk for cheap then it might go viral and get more attention to the other products.  We believe to be the best hi-fi company, we need to have the best of the best gears, not only budget ones. If we only do budget, people will have a false image of us not being serious enough, so the idea is very simple”
And to close, I asked Lee about VE’s mission statement or values statement, and the answer I received made perfect sense – “keeping it real”.
The Runabout portable amplifier that I’m reviewing today was provided as a review sample by VE. Lee actually supplied it because he was interested in my opinion as to how it performed, and I wasn’t obligated to actually write a review – but I wanted to because it is a very interesting amplifier. I am not affiliated to VE in any way, and this is my honest opinion of the Runabout amplifier.
(This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).
I'm a 48 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portables (Fiio X5ii, X3ii, LP5 and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5ii/X3ii > HP, or PC > E17K > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600, and AKG K553.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Adel U6, Dunu DN-2000J, Jays q-Jays and Alclair Curve2. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.
I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent.  I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).
I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.
For the actual listening part of this review I used the Runabout mainly with my X3ii or X1 DAP, and a little bit with the iPhone 5S. The reason I chose these sources was that at USD 100.00, the Runabout sits nicely in the budget category so I chose sources to match.
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
  1. Volume matching was done with a calibrated SPL meter and test tones (1 kHz) when required for comparison.
  2. Frequency response and distortion measurements were taken using a relatively cheap Startech USB soundcard (which measures pretty well – 0.012% THD and 0.024% THD+N – which was consistent at 300 Hz, 1 kHz and 6 kHz @ -3 dB volume as suggested by ARTA using loopback). I combined this with a licensed copy of the ARTA measuring suite. The soundcard has a calibration adjustment applied – so that it measures dead flat from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I would now look for in a portable amplifier. This is useful to remember when looking at my reasoning for scoring later in the review.
  1. Genuine portability
  2. Good battery life
  3. Clean, neutral signature (a window to the music)
  4. Easy to use
  5. Low output impedance
  6. Reasonable output power – should be able to drive IEMs and earphones up to 300 ohms
  7. Good gain control
  8. Value for money
  1. Fiio E7, E11, GoVibe Porta Tube, Headstage Arrow 12HE 4G, Beyerdynamic A200p
  2. Current portable amps E11K, E17K, Q1, VE Runabout


As an evaluation sample, the Runabout arrived to me basically in courier packaging without any accessories (it was extremely well wrapped and protected). I’m unaware at this stage if there is actually likely to be any retail packaging.  There is no power adaptor, battery, or interconnect.
As an evaluation sample – I have no issues with the spartan approach – but would hope that for actual buyers the minimum they will receive would be a power adaptor and basic interconnect.
The tables below list most of the relevant specifications for the Runabout.  I have included specifications for Fiios E11K and E17K as comparison points – but please consider with the E17K that you also get a DAC too.  This is just to compare similarly priced amps.
VE Runabout
Fiio E11K
Fiio E17K
Approx cost
~ USD 98
~ USD 60
~ USD 140
110 x 70 x 25mm
91 x 56 x 13mm
104 x 62 x 13mm
Output Impedance H/O
Not stated / unknown
<0.2 ohm
<1.1 ohm
Max Output @ 16 ohm
Not stated / unknown
450 mW
Not stated
Max Output @ 32 ohm
150 mW
270 mW
>200 mW
Not stated / unknown
>108 dB
>113 dB
Not stated (see review)
0.004% (1 kHz)
<0.003% (1 kHZ)
Frequency Response
20 Hz-20 kHz
20 Hz-20 kHz
20 Hz-20 kHz
~ +4.5 db (H)
-3.8 dB (L) / 11.7 dB (H)
0 / 6 / 12 dB
Channel Imbalance
~ 0.5 dB (measured)
<0.3 dB
<0.5 dB
Max Output Current
Not stated / unknown
>92.6 mA
>115 mA
Max Output Voltage
Not stated / unknown
>8.67 Vp-p
>7.8 Vp-p
Outer Material
Brushed Aluminium
Brushed Aluminium
Brushed Aluminium
Headphone Out
3.5 mm
3.5 mm
3.5 mm
9V replaceable
1400 mAh rechargeable
1500 mAh rechargeable
Battery Life
Refer to review (30 hour+)
~ 16 hours
~ 15 hours
Recharge Time
4 hours
4 hours
The Runabout is rectangular shaped with rounded edges over the main body, flat face and rear plates which are also rounded, but still create a hard edge between the body and face plate. It is fairly large for a portable amp – measuring 110 x 70 x 25mm – so it is essentially as long and wide as my iPhone 5S, and twice as deep. The runabout is also relatively weighty, coming in at 234g with battery loaded (close to 3 x the weight of the E11K, and twice the weight of the E17K.
Runabout - front face
Runabout - side view
Runabout - rear plate
At the front from left to right is a BITechnologies potentiometer, 3.5mm headphone out, switchable L/H gain, 3.5mm line-in, and a green LED (power on). At the rear of the amp is a 15v DC power socket, an on/off switch, and another red LED light (assume this is lit when DC power is active?). The battery can be accessed by undoing 4 threaded screws, and removing the rear plate.  A 9V battery is used, and sits snugly between the frame and the PCB.  Screwing the rear plate back on securely holds the battery in place.
Battery compartment
PCB removed from enclosure
All the components

The pot is nice and smooth to use and has a full range of motion from about the 7 o’clock position through to 5 o’clock. Channel balance is pretty good on the RA – showing approx. 0.5 dB imbalance when measured (at close to full output), and subjectively showing noticeable imbalance at the bottom of the pot, but nothing really noticeable beyond that.
Opening the unit up, and I was quite surprised to see that the outer mail case is actually two pieces – something not at all noticeable when assembled. The PCB is extremely tidy and well soldered. The OP amps are socketed JRC 4556AD (so can be user replaced), and combined with a Texas Instruments BUF634 250mA high speed buffer chip.
PCB side view
PCB rear view
PCB - underneath

The only issue I have with build (besides weight and size which I will address later) is that the rear thumb screws are quite difficult to remove, and already I have one which is slightly cross threaded.  Given how often it is likely (within the Runabout’s lifetime) an owner would be replacing the battery, I think that perhaps a more elegant solution could be needed.
Overall though, the build is tidy, solid, and shows very good workmanship.
So far I’ve noticed no heat build-up at all with the Runabout.  Even after a couple of hours (driving my HD600s), it’s still very cool to touch.
VE doesn’t give a lot of detail about power output, but they do list 150 mW into 32 ohms and 55 mW into 300 ohms. Surprisingly, compared to my E11K and E17K, the Runabout outputs 55% of the rated power of the E11K, and 75% of the E17K.  I guess I was expecting more given its size and weight.
But to give you an idea of the output the Runabout is capable of, my HD600’s were at a comfortable listening level at around 9 o’clock on the pot (only 25% of the available power), and subjectively sounded really well driven. VE’s own 320ohm Zen(1) was easily driven at just under 9 0’clock on the pot. Lastly I also switched to the Beyerdynamic T1 (600 ohm), and while it required close to 11 o’clock on the pot, this still left ample headroom (again low gain).  My only issue with the T1 was that it sounded (subjectively) just a little thin (the E11K was similar).
The Runabout is quite a powerhouse for a sub $100 amp – but how about those wanting to drive more sensitive loads?
First up for me was the 22 ohm 115 dB SPL Adel U6, and it was beautifully driven – but at 8am and in real danger of hitting audible channel imbalance. The 8ohm 102 dB SPL DUNU DN-2000J was at very close to the same volume.  Of course all of this depends on the line-out of the source you are using – and the Fiios tend to have an excellent and well powered line-out.  Feeding from a lower powered source (e.g. a smart-phone) will net far better use of the pot.
So summarising – the Runabout is a powerful little amplifier for its size.  It’ll easily drive most headphones at least up to 300 ohms (depending on sensitivity), and likely many up to 600 ohms. Depending on the line-out of your source, you may not have a lot of play in the pot for more sensitive loads.
The gain switch on the Runabout is a simple high/low switch, and while VE state the difference as 3.4 times on low, and 5.7 times on high, it is perhaps more practical to look at the actual use and impact.  Measuring with a loopback and ARTA, the actual gain by engaging the switch was ~ 4.6 dB.  So what does this mean? Well if put another way, the difference between high and low gain is roughly the difference between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock on the pot.  So the question to really ask is why so low and what is the point?  Gain isn’t a magic switch to make things sound better (despite what some others may think) – all it is really doing is adding volume.  And to add so little volume to me just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Image above shows the gain measurement on the Runabout
I made this comment when I recently reviewed Fiio’s E11K, and it is appropriate here:
“There is also a gain switch which raises the overall volume by ~ 15.5 dB.  The thing I like about this is that it a decent change in gain, and actually makes a difference – rather than just being put there as an afterthought.  Unsurprisingly, I really don’t use the gain toggle at all – unless it’s a low powered source, and a hard to drive load.  Nice to know it is there though.”
In the case of the Runabout, the gain switch needs more thought re implementation, and at this stage is effectively useless for most loads.
As stated earlier, the Runabout uses a 9v battery, and I haven’t been able to actually perform a single proper test with it yet to actually measure performance. The problem for me (with work, family and other commitments) is simply being able to be present for when the battery cuts out. In one of my tests I started the Runabout on continuous play, rechecked after 24 hours and it was still going strong.  At the 30 hour mark it was still playing, but then unfortunately I forgot to check again until around the 48-50 hour mark, and at that stage the battery was exhausted.  What I will say is that a single 9v replaceable battery should get you at least a week of reasonable use 4-5 hours a day, and it’s a simple matter of having access to a spare – and you are instantly up and running again.
Update: Lee has already been in touch following the posting of the review, and gave me some great insight as to why he's used the 9V battery.  The reason for choosing this options was to ensure a clean and black background - with no dc to dc voltage boost, so that ultimately SQ could be maintained.  You've just got to love a company that goes to these sorts or measures.
I’m going to preface this section with a little critique I received a while ago (by PM), and my answer to it – so that you can understand why I don’t comment on some things, and why I do comment on others.  I was told my review on another amp was poor because I didn’t include sections on bass, mid-range, treble, sound-stage, imaging etc – yet referred to an amp as warm, full, or lean.
Now I can understand the reference to warm / full / lean – as they are very subjective terms, and whilst I’d like to avoid their use, they are invaluable to convey true meaning. Comparing my NFB-12 to the Aune X1S for example – the Audio-gd does sound richer and warmer.  It’s the nature of the DAC which is used.
But I choose not to comment on bass, mids, treble, and most definitely not sound-stage – simply because when we are talking about an amp – they shouldn’t be discussed.  An amp’s job is to amplify the signal with as low distortion as possible, and output as linear signal as possible.  If it is doing its job properly, there is no effect on bass, mids, or treble. And IME an amp does not affect soundstage (unless there is DSP or crossfeed in play) – that is solely the realm of the transducers and the actual recording.
So we have that out of the way how does the Runabout perform sonically?
Image above shows linearity and channel balance
The first thing I did was to check the linearity of the Runabout.  To do this I used a calibrated sound card (calibrated to measure completely flat), ARTA and a loopback. In both the low gain and high gain frequency tests the Runabout measured completely linear. So what you are getting is very good neutral amplification not adding or taking away anything. And that is what we all want right?
THD measurement at 1kHz
THD measurement at 6kHz
THD measurement at 300 Hz

Next up was distortion measurements.  My USB soundcard measures (on loopback) THD at 0.010%-0.013% and THD+N at 0.020%-0.032% at pretty much -100 dB (this was with separate readings at 300 Hz, 1 kHz and 6 kHz).  When I added the Runabout – I got pretty much the same measurements with it in loopback – so the Runabout is essentially measuring the same or lower than my USB sound card can measure.  It also means that the distortion and harmonic distortion are both inaudible.
IMD measurement at 1kHz
IMD measurement at 6kHz
IMD measurement at 300 Hz

The last thing I measured was IMD, and again this was below the threshold of audibility, and again the Runabout was measuring below the actual thresh-hold of the USB sound card.
So what does this tell us?  Simply that the Runabout supplies very linear, and very clean output.  Purely subjectively, it sounds very neutral – no added warmth or brightness I can discern. Just pure, clean amplification – basically a window to the music.
Because I don’t have a lot of other portable amplifiers at my disposal, I simply used what I had available – the Fiio E11K, and the Fiio E17K (which as luck would have it bracket the Runabout in price).
E17K, Runabout and E11K
Top to bottom - E11K, E17K and Runabout
Stacking size - X3ii (top), X5ii and Rounabout
VE Runabout (USD $98) vs E11K (USD $60)
Both of these amplifiers are designed to be portable, both are extremely well built with aluminium casings, both have an analogue volume pot, and both measure very linearly with low distortion. Purely subjectively - volume matched and fast (or slow) switched, they both sound very similar – so much so that I would be unable to tell them apart in a blind test.  Both are excellent amplifiers in this regard. For those who want to know – I could discern no difference in sound-stage
The E11K is around twice as powerful according to the power specifications – but this would only come into play with very demanding loads, and for most portable uses that would be a non-issue. The E11K does come with a subtle bass boost as an extra feature, and the other feature difference is that the gain on the E11K at 15.5 dB is a lot more practical than the Runabout’s 4.5 dB gain.
The Runabout and E11K approach battery life from two very different angles – the E11K with a fixed rechargeable battery providing around 16 hours life with a 4 hour charge time vs the Runabout’s whopping 30+ hours and instant swap. So this comes down to how you use the amps and what your preference would be.  For me personally I much prefer the ability to charge from any USB port, or wall socket, and the gains in cost and smaller size outweigh the added life.  YMMV. Personally I would have liked to see the Runabout with smaller form factor and a rechargeable battery – but that is simply my preference.
Finally there is the question of value. And unfortunately for the Runabout it is up against a portable amplifier that is cheaper, more powerful, just as linear, with better implemented features, and a lot more portable. Both are fantastic amplifiers for their price.  The E11K is simply better IMHO.
X3ii and E11K
X3ii and Runabout
iPhone 5S and Runabout

VE Runabout (USD $98) vs E17K (USD $130)
The E17K is a DAC/amp. It has an inbuilt battery (15 hour rating) and digital volume control instead of analog. At 110g and 104x62x13mm, it is again smaller (by approximately half) than the Runabout. It has 3 levels of gain 0dB, 6dB and 12dB, and has a tone toggle (-10 to +10 bass, and same on the treble).  Again it measures below the distortion floor of my sound-card, and measures flat in frequency. Its maximum output is 200mw into 32 ohms (slightly more than the Runabout) and again has no issues driving my 300 ohm Sennheiser HD600s.  In a volume matched blind-test, I would have difficulty picking the E17K from the Runabout (the E17K may have a slight touch of warmth). The E17K does however add a very good DAC, tone controls, balance, and other inputs and outputs, and is incredible value at $130.
On the amp section alone, the Runabout sounds every bit as good as the E17K and is definitely 25-30% cheaper.  But even discounting the DAC of the E17K, it offers useable tone controls, far better gain implementation and most importantly better portability. So it would be hard (again) to recommend the Runabout if put up against the E17K – even at a slightly dearer price.


The VE Runabout is an exceptional sounding amplifier with a very neutral sound signature, very low distortion, and essentially provides a clean and clear window to the music.  It is quite powerful for its size, and had no problem driving my HD600s with a lot of headroom to spare. Its build is very solid, and internally a lot of care has been taken with layout of components.
At $100 it represents very good value to the audio enthusiast. Five or six years ago, if the Runabout had hit the market with this form factor, it would have been a hit – especially at this price point. However, in today’s market, and against current competition, it is going to struggle a little. With its current weight and dimension it is far less portable when compared to both the E11K and E17K (which both have comparable sound). It also has issues with gain implementation (not really useful), and comparative lack of features.
I’ve now had the Runabout for a little over 3 months, and while it is an excellent sounding and performing amplifier, I must confess that I don’t reach for it – even around home where portability is less important.
So for me, a solid first effort from VE, and very worthy of 3 stars for what it brings to the table.  But ultimately there is better value out there, and as such I would simply suggest looking at the features you need, and basing buying decisions on that.
For anyone reading the above – please understand that this is not a negative review. I really like the Runabout’s sound and would be perfectly happy with it listening in isolation. However as a reviewer, I must also look at the competition when evaluating, as that will ultimately perceived value.
Thanks once again to Lee from VE for providing the sample for evaluation.
Lee and I conversed within less than an hour of posting the review, and he was able to update me on one of the design choices - ie the battery (I mentioned the reasons why they used it in the body of the review).  With this in mind, and realising now why they've chosen it, and also the impact it has on overall size constraints, I can now relay this to readers of the review so they also understand VE's intentions.  Lee also says they will be including an interconnect when they eventually release the amp for global sale.
Taking both of these factors into account has changed my overall view a little - and accordingly I have raised the score to 3.5 stars.
There are some cosmetic, and also alternative suggestions:
  • As a portable amp – consider switching to a rechargeable lithium battery, and condensing the overall size for future models.
  • The gain implementation really needs to be rethought.
  • If keeping current form factor and price – then inclusion of a power adaptor and interconnect would be useful to add to value perception.
  • With the current size shell / form factor – there would be plenty of room to add a small DAC board. This would make it ideal for use as a cheap and excellent sounding mini desktop dac/amp.  Food for thought maybe?
Thanks Chris.  Lee has given us power specs for 32 and 300 ohm - was just the 16 ohm one missing.  I had a chat with him today regarding the maximum voltage and current, and his comment to me was both enlightening and also very valid. He said that the problem with giving output figures (like wattage - per channel) is that some will give you max, some will give you continuous, and most will not state what actual measurement criteria. So what he's provided is continuous output into 32 ohm and 300 ohm loads as a guide to what you can expect.
I'd really keep an eye on these guys in the future.  The know design, they no good sound, and they are unexpectedly frank and clear with the information they release.  They are also very open to suggestions.  Sign of a really good company. 
Cool. We agree pretty much on which companies are in need of interaction,after care lessons so I trust your opinion of the company. I'll try to get one and do a bass test with it.
**somewhere an engineer just cried...or did they..:wink:**
Let me know how you get on :)  And if you can geta  chance to try the Zen2 earbuds they'll knock your socks off.  Like listening to full sized cans.
Pros: Great sound and build quality, excellent value
Cons: Bulky design, can only run on battery
The Runabout was sent to me as a review unit from Venture Electronics (VE) a while back. I would like to thank VE and Lee for giving me the chance to check out the Runabout. The Runabout is available from Aliexpress:,searchweb201644_5,searchweb201560_9
I’m not in any way affiliated with Venture Electronics.
Short introduction of Venture Electronics:
VE is a small and pretty new company, only three years old.
They’re located in mainland China and have fast become very popular in audiophile circles due to their line of earbuds (Monk, Asura and Zen) which offers excellent value for money.
About me:
I’m a 43 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
I do not use EQ, ever.
I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
Built and accessories:
The VE Runabout is a battery driven (9v) semi-portable headphone amplifier.  
The Runabout is named after a kind of starships in Star Trek (Runabouts are a class of small, multi-purpose starships in the Star Trek science-fiction franchise, source Wikipedia:
Since my Runabout was a review unit it arrived to me without a retail package and accessories.
Please note that I’ve put on the carbon film myself to protect the Runabout from scratches.
There’s no denying that the Runabout is literally built as a tank. It’s made of metal that’s very solid and it feels as if it should withstand any abuse it could possibly be put through.
High/Low gain and On/Off switches does also feel solid and reliable.
The volume knob does also feel very solid and has a perfect amount of resistance when being moved to raise or lower the volume.
The Runabout offers a 3.5 mm input where you connect your source and a 3.5 mm jack to connect the headphones to.
When pairing it with my LG G3 phone I’ve not been able to detect any EMI noise whatsoever.
VE has chosen a solution with a replaceable 9v battery. I feel that this is kind of a two egged sword: On one hand it helps to give the Runabout it’s black background and gives about 30 hour of usage with the possibility to just put in a new (fully charged) battery when the old one dies (compared to maybe 8 hours of usage and 3-4 hours of charging with an internal lithium battery). On the other hand it makes the design more bulky and requires for the user to make sure he/she has the batteries needed to use it.
As already mentioned the size of the Runabout makes it less ideal for portable use and more suited to use around the house or when reaching your destination if you bring it on a trip.
Unfortunately the Runabout cannot be used with electricity so the 15v DC input on the back is just for internal charging of the 9v battery and the Runabout should not be used while charging. VE (and me too for that matter) suggest to use an external 9v battery charger due to safer charging and to minimalize the risk of the Runabout being harmed by the user connecting the wrong power adapter or other potential problems that might occur.
It’s also worth mentioning that the dual JRC 455AD op amps are socket mounted so that they can be easily user replaced. I only had one other drop in replacement op amp available (LM4562) and did try it out but preferred the stock one so that’s what I’ve used during this review.
Behind door number one we've got the battery......
....and behind door number two the board......
....with the.......
....swappable op amps. 
The specs:
• Output voltage swing 3V RMS, 32ohm 150mW / 300ohm 55mW
• Low-gain 3.4 times, 5.7 times higher gain
• TI TLE2426, BUF634, JRC 4556AD
• VISHAY wafer chip resistors and MBB0207 series resistance
• BC Low ESR high current filter capacitor, opa pins SMD AVX tantalum decoupling
• Handpicked BI potentiometer
• Taiwan SH gold seal power switch, (life span=100k times), gain adjustment switch using     Japanese OTAX small sealed switch
• TYCO fully shielded headphone jack
• KEYSTONE 590 battery shrapnel
• All RC components are hand-picked +SMIC soldering
I’ve used the Runabout on and off for the last couple of months and it have played for well over 100 hours.  
I’ve combined it with my LG G3 phone, the GO720, the FiiO X3 and the CEntrance DACport Slim and it has worked very well in all combinations.
Demo list:
Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
Ane Brun – These Days
Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
Metallica – Die Die My Darling
The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
Eva Cassidy – Songbird
Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Celldweller – Unshakeable
Jack Johnson – Better Together
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
Dire Straits- So Far Away
Bjørk - Moon
Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
I’ve got to be honest and admit that I find it pretty difficult to describe the sound from an amplifier. To me the sound of headphones/IEM’s is more easy to describe than that of amplifiers and DAC’s. Because of this I’ll do a brief description of the overall sound from the Runabout and then compare it to a couple of other amplifiers to highlight the difference and similarities between them.
According to VE the Runabout is designed to give the best possible sound at its price when combined to VE’s own IEM the Duke and especially their Zen earbud. Both of these are quite power hungry (the Zen by far the most) and as a consequence of this the Runabout is not nessecarily the best pairing with easy to drive IEM’s (gives little room to “play” with the volume). To me it’s not really a problem that it’s not ideal to use with stuff that actually don’t need an amplifier to perform its best. I also typically don’t “play around” with the volume and I really don’t care if I get enough volume at 9 o’clock or 12 o’clock on the volume knob (again this is with stuff that doesn’t need an amplifier to start with) as long as the background is quiet and there’s no channel imbalance and the Runabout doesn’t introduce any of these issues. I do realize that this might be an issue to others though so now it’s mentioned.
The sound from the Runabout is spacious without feeling artificially wide. It has a great timbre to it and separation and bass reproduction is great and feels very natural to me. I’d characterize the overall signature as natural with a touch of warmth to it. 
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
I this comparison both amplifiers where fed by the line out from the CEntrance DACport Slim and I was listening to through my Philips Fidelio X2’s and ATH-CKR9’s.
I used a splitter box to split the signal from the Slim to the different amplifiers and a simple Android app to volume match the amplifiers.
Size comparison with the Cayin C5:
Cayin C5 vs VE Runabout:
The Cayin C5 is my all-time favorite portable amplifier. I was actually really surprised when comparing the two because they sound very similar to each other. As a matter of fact the sound is so similar that I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t even tell the two apart in a blind test. W
Background hiss with no music playing and the gain on low is very low with both of them when using them with easy to drive IEM’s.
I’m quite impressed by the fact that the $99 Runabout can put on a similar performance as the (to me) excellent value for money $159 Cayin C5.
Between these two it really comes down to other parameters that pure sound quality. If you’re looking for something with a high portability, the power to amp 600Ohm headphones and need a bass boost choose the C5. If you on the other hand plan to use it around the house, like 30 hour of battery time (the C5 has about 8 hours), would like to just swap the battery and continue to listen when the battery runs out and the most solid build quality is important to you go for the Runabout. Both offers a 3.5mm input to connect your source through.
Schiit Magni vs VE Runabout:
The Magni ($99) is about twice the size of the Runabout and runs on electricity only.
Compare to the Runabout the Magni has an overall slightly thinner but also cleaner presentation. While the Runabout is slightly warmer than what I’d consider to be neutral the Magni is what I’d describe as spot on neutral. The result is a slightly more full sound most easily noticeable with male vocals and also slightly more distinct character on the Runabout. The Magni can tend to sound a bit shouty (in comparison) with some music (Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana is a good example of this). They both offer similar great sense of space, separation and bass depth. The Runabout does have a more black background (especially noticeable with the easy to drive CKR9’s).
The choice between these two comes down to what kind of sound you like and what headphones/DAC/IEM’s you plan to pair it with. The Magni also offers a higher power output but has no gain switch and its fixed gain is very high (making it even more difficult to use with easy to drive IEM’s). The Magni offers a pair of RCA inputs while the Runabout offers a 3.5 mm input to connect your source through.
As already mentioned I find it really hard to find significant differences between well designed and built amplifiers and although the differences described above do exist I would certainly not call them big.
The VE Runabout offers an excellent sound quality combined with superb battery life, decent power and really black background. It’s a great value for money and it pairs up absolutely amazing with VE’s only IEM this far the Duke.
As long as you don’t mind the bulky design (compared to other portable amps) and are fine to use a 9v battery as your power source this is surely the best sub $100 amplifier I’ve come across this far.
Also, how can you not love an amplifier named after a spaceship in Star Trek?
Now I’m just looking forward to receive the Zen and Zen 2.0 to see how they pair up with this little gem.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Neutral sound. Driving power. Battery life. Rugged.
Cons: Tough to use with sensitive HP/IEM. Battery can be tricky to change. Thick.

GEEK TRIVIA: The VE RUNABOUT was named after this Star Trek spacecraft. I love Star Trek, ergo I must love the VE RUNABOUT! 

The RUNABOUT (RA) is the first portable amp from VE (Venture Electronics), an up and coming audio company from China most famous around Head-Fi for their outstanding ZEN earbuds. I got a chance to hear the ZEN earbuds earlier in the summer and was blown away. They sound amazing for the price and scale very nicely. When I heard that VE was releasing an IEM and amp, I was excited to give them a listen. Luckily, I received the RA and a pair of DUKE for review. 
Before diving into my review, please take a moment to check out @Hisoundfi's review of the RALINK.
There's also a dedicated thread for the RALINK.

There is no financial incentive from VE in writing this review.  I am in no way affiliated with VE, and this is my honest opinion of the RA.  I would like to thank Lee at VE for giving me the chance to test drive the RA, and I hope my feedback proves useful for my fellow Head-Fi members as well as for VE.

I'm a 43 year old music lover who listens to a wide variety of genres and artists (but mostly electronic, metal, and modern composition these days). As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues - some upper frequency loss and mild tinnitus. My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders, and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-120, iPod, iPhone, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso. My headphone journey started with Sony MDR e888 and Eggos back in my minidisc days.  I moved on to full-size Beyerdynamic and Ultrasone cans and Shure E2 and E3 IEM. Those all served me well for quite some time.  Then I rediscovered Head-Fi, and my poor wallet...

  1. Output voltage swing 3V RMS
  2. 32Ω @ 150mW / 300Ω @ 55mW
  3. Low Gain=3.4X, High Gain=5.7X
  4. TI TLE2426, BUF634, JRC 4556AD
  5. VISHAY wafer chip resistors and MBB0207 series resistance
  6. BC Low ESR high current filter capacitor, opa pins SMD AVX tantalum decoupling
  7. Handpicked BI potentiometer
  8. Taiwan SH gold seal power switch, (life span=100k times)  (SPL amp also use the switches from SH)
  9. Japanese OTAX small sealed switch for gain adjustment
  10. TYCO fully shielded headphone jack
  11. KEYSTONE 590 battery shrapnel
  12. All RC components are hand-picked +SMIC soldering.
Here's a glamour shot of the RA's internals.
Picture courtesy of VE.


Since this was a pre-release unit intended solely for review, it wasn't commercially packaged. I simply received a plain cardboard box with the RA inside generously wrapped in bubble wrap. I've seen the commercial packaging for VE's earbuds and IEM, and it's simple yet attractive with generous accessories.
The RA has a classic DIY amp look about it that is reminiscent of my old Portaphile, but the RA has much better build quality. The amp is a mostly metal construction with a matte black finish. In contrast to my old Portaphile, the RA's front and back plates are metal and not plastic. The metal case is also fairly thick which makes the RA feel very solid but heavy in comparison with other amps I've owned or auditioned. It's more of a transportable design that you can stack with your DAP and thrown in a bag. It's definitely not something you're going to want to put in your jeans pocket. 
The front plate is held on with hex screws, so keep a hex wrench set handy if you want to open it up. From left to right, we've got the largish plastic volume pot, line in, plastic gain switch, headphone out, and power indicator that lights up GREEN when in use. As you can see all of the functions are marked very clearly in high-contrast white on black. After trying a few amps with very low-contrast markings recently, this was certainly refreshing and well-appreciated. Bravo, VE! Bravo, I say!!!
Picture courtesy of VE.
The rear plate is held on with thumb screws. This makes it easy to remove for changing out the 9V battery. From left to right, we've got a 15V receptacle, metal on/off switch, and an LED that is associated with either charging or using mains - not sure as there wasn't a 15V adapter included so the light never came on for me.
Picture courtesy of VE.
As I mentioned before, the RA is more transportable than portable. It's mainly due to its thickness. The length and width are actually comparable to the Fiio E12, however the RA is twice as thick as the E12. The following pictures would illustrate that pretty well with the RA vs. my Fiio E12A.


What do I like about the RA's build? It feel very solidly built and durable. The switches have good resistance, so you shouldn't have to worry about them being flicked into the wrong position by accident. The jacks have a nice click as your interconnect or plug slides in. The power indicator LED isn't blinding. And I LOVE the high-contrast white on black labeling.
What could be improved? I'd love to see more resistance built int the volume pot. It's buttery smooth and very easy to turn in comparison to other amps I've owned/tried - almost too easy to turn. In fact, I've accidentally nudged the volume into uncomfortable territory with sensitive HP & IEM. My other (more minor) niggle is that the battery is quite tight inside the amp to the point where I decided it would be better to slightly loosen the front plate than slap the amp against the palm of my hand repeatedly. Once the front plate is slightly loose, the battery slips out quite easily. This is a double-edged sword. Having the battery fit tightly ensures it isn't rattly around inside the case, which is the case with my Portaphile. However, it does make it a bit of a pain to swap batteries. I did bring this up with VE and was assured that it is tight by design to prevent the battery from rattling around. Luckily the RA is like the Energizer Bunny of amps and just keeps chugging along. I've used it EXTENSIVELY for a few weeks and haven't had to change out the battery yet. Again, Bravo VE!!!
The RA has a clean, detailed sound and very natural soundstage that I'm surprised to find at the ~$100 price point. On the RA​ thread, it has been compared quite favorably to the Cayin C5. I no longer have the Cayin C5 on hand for comparison. From memory, the C5 has a more v-shaped sound signature with a warmer, slower low end and added sparkle up top that gives it a very spacious presentation. In contrast, the RA sounds very balanced from top to bottom with a less spacious but perhaps more natural presentation.
The RA was designed to be paired with VE's DUKE IEM and ZEN earbuds, and it does sound great with them as well as VE's mid-tier earbud, the ASURA. In fact, the RA's clean neutral sound was quite complementary with all of the earbuds, HP,and IEM I threw at it, including Heir 3.Ai and 4.Ai, TPEOS Altone200, Trinity Delta, and VE DUKE IEM + VE MONK, ASURA, and ZEN earbuds + HiFiMan HE-400S an HE-400 HP.
PRO TIP: Buy VE's $5 MONK earbuds, connect to a 50-100 Ohm resistance adapter to tighten up the low end and add some sparkle up top, and pair with the RA. I think you'll be mighty impressed!
RA has plenty of driving power on High Gain to make VE's 300 Ohm ZEN earbuds sing, so it should work well with a lot of your "serious" cans. In fact, you can get the ZEN to ear implosion levels if you want. Even Low Gain has a lot of driving power, which is one of my niggles with the RA. As with a lot of portable amps, it's tricky to use with sensitive HP & IEM. A small turn of the volume pot goes a long way with a lot of my collection. It's really no different in this respect than amps like Cayin's C5 and Fiio's E11k or E12. Turn it a bit too far, and you reach ear implosion levels pretty quickly. Couple this with the butter smooth volume pot, and be prepared to turn the volume pot slowly and carefully with your sensitive HP & IEM. You have been forewarned!
I did find an easy workaround with my gear, which was to use my iBasso DX90 as the source. The DX90 has a variable line out, so I simply turned the volume down to 225 out of 255. This allowed me to get much more travel out of the volume pot. Turning it down a bit lower would give you even more control for really fine-tuning the volume but would take you even further away from the ideal full-volume line out. I felt that 225 was a good compromise.
Oh yeah, despite the generous driving power, it doesn't get hot. Not even remotely close. It's always felt cool to slightly warm.
The RA is a really good first portable amp from VE. It nails a clean, detailed, and natural sound that paired well with a lot of my gear. In a market where "style" has led several manufacturers to design amps with low-contrast, hard to read labeling, I just have to mention again how much I appreciate the very clear white on black labeling VE used on the RA. I also appreciate the long battery life - simply amazing!
Suggestions for improvement in a second-generation RA would be to lower the gain (at least in low gain) to make it easier for those without a variable line out to have fine-grained volume control with sensitive HP & IEM. I'd also like to see a bit more resistance on the volume pot. If it could be bundled with a rechargeable 9V and DC adapter without raising the price too much, that would also be nice. USB charging would be even better. I'd love to simply plug the RA in via USB wherever I'm at and keep it topped off. Keeping a couple rechargeable 9V batteries on hand isn't that much of an inconvenience, though. If there were a way to cram the RA's great sound and awesome battery life into a thinner case, that would be icing on the cake. I challenge VE to make these adjustments with the next version of the RA. If they do, my rating will creep up to 4.5 to 5 stars.
Thanks again to Lee at VE for providing me with a review sample.
waynes world
waynes world
Very informative review - thanks!


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