Fiio E9 *The Big Users Guide* ~ The 10 x headphone round-up ~ How does yours stack-up with the E9? <pictures inside>
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Gwarmi

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This review came about after seeing countless posts and debate over what this little wonder amplifier
known as the 'Fiio E9' supposedly 'can' and 'cannot' do.
 
I decided to set out to my local audio store for myself and see how it would handle a bruising 4 hour
audition with 8 x headphones that span from the mid range to the top tier.
 
While it was impossible to test every single headphone known to man, I hope the following sample
sheds a tonne of light on how your headphone might stack up when used with the Fiio E9.
 
Notes:-
 
All headphones were run without activating the high-gain switch since all necessary volume
was achieved at a maximum of 12 'o clock. There is simply no need for this functionality on
the E9, it's use proved to attack the E9's weaknesses by reducing the sound-stage and congesting
the pace and rhythm. This is quite a common aspect for most amplifiers, I can second this as being
true for my Violectric V200 with most if not all headphones I've tried. Leave the gain switch alone.
 
Test Rig:
 

Fiio E9 (brand new out of the box as a demo unit for the store room, 0 hours on it)
Violectric V800 DAC
ALO Mini to RCA cable
Burson 160 standalone amplifier (this was to be my constant to check how the Fiio E9 was faring)
 

 

Method:
 
Pretty simple, I only used 3 tracks (Cyndi Lauper's 'I drove all night', Keith Richard's 'Yap Yap' and
a Mozart Violin Concerto in G Major KV 216 Allegro from HD track.com) - each track was played
through with the designated headphone on the Fiio E9 and then played back once again on the
Burson 160, this was repeated twice and the observational notes were taken for this review.
 
Each headphone was given a final performance rating in relation to the comparison between
the amps ~ Very good, recommended, or poor.
 
 
AT-AD900
 

 
 
This headphone fared pretty well as was to be expected being a low impedance
non-demanding headphone, compared to the Burson 160 bass impact was lessened
on the Fiio E9 yet it felt perfectly adequate for the AD900's airy character in the first
place. Volume was set at 9 'o clock for comfortable listening. The Fiio E9's warmth
made it's presence known with this headphone. Overall, a very transparent listening
experience free from any graininess. The Burson did little to run away in this match-up. 
 
Verdict: Very good
 
 
AT-W1000X
 

 
 
Volume made it's way to the 10 'o clock position for comfortable listening levels, bass
performance was clearly superior on the Burson 160, the Fiio E9 reacting poorly to
this headphone through either the 3.5mm or 6.5mm jack, the bass was merely a
full thud lacking any sort of texture or extension. Switching over to the Burson 160,
the matter was immediately rectified and the bass was tight and prominent.
Soundstage, one of this headphone's strengths also played into the E9's weakness
for spreading and separating each note played - The W1000X also made it clear
that on some highs, the treble felt rolled off on the Fiio E9.
 
Verdict: Recommended
 
 
Shure 840
 

 
 
We have a winner~! - This was the match of the day by far for reasons
that are beyond me. Switching back and forth with the Burson showed
very little difference. Volume was set at the 9 'o clock position.
Separation in particular was not any better on the Burson, even through
it's own low impedance jack. Performance suffered however for the 840
through the Fiio 3.5mm jack. The smaller jack in general proved to be
inferior in most occasions for all headphones tested.
 
Verdict: Very, very good ~ thinking about an 840 and E9? Go now!
 
 
AiAiAi TMA-1
 

 
 
This headphone proved to be the difficult child today, liking neither
the Fiio E9 or the Burson, it was also the sole candidate that insisted
on hissing and making all sorts of subtle yet audible noise when not
playing but fiddling with the volume control. The 3.5mm once again
proved to be useless and so back on the 6.5mm jack the Fiio E9
was thoroughly bested by the Burson 160 in terms of detail
separation and coaxing some treble extensions from the capricious
TMA-1's. Perhaps, I've spoiled the review ~ I found the TMA-1 difficult
to like because it failed the very first essential criteria ~ clarity ~
or lack thereof in this case, it's pairing with the E9 did it no favors.
 
Verdict: Poor, but then again that may not be the E9's problem
 
 
[size=small]Beyerdynamic DT 880 (250ohm)[/size]
 

 
 
Once again the E9 proved that it could drive this demanding headphone
to any volume desired, all of that even before 1 'o clock on the volume
dial. Passages felt fast through the E9 compared to the Burson's
relaxed presentation and pace. Sound stage also suffered through
the E9, it managed to draw some width but it was not as deep or
as convincing as the Burson 160. Overall, this was the first surprise
of the day in that it powered them reasonably, unfortunately the
dynamics were not up to the level of the Burson. The level of
clarity however was almost a dead-heat, once again the E9
showed excellent grain-free reproduction across the board.
 
Verdict: Satisfactory
 
 
Audeze LCD-2 (revision #2)
 

 
 
The big Audeze LCD-2's volume was set to 11 'o clock.
Instantly being quite the mid-centric headphone, the most
apparent change was the forward presentation from the E9
- some would say, too forward, as in 'Grado forward'.
Th rich, concentrated lushness that LCD-2 is renowned for was 
diluted through the Fiio E9 - the bass impact again leaning
towards a one note thud, overall, it was all perfectly listenable 
but the Burson 160 managed to better it convincingly across
most tracks. Once again, the higher the resolution of the
track ~ the more the Burson started to lengthen the gap.
 
Verdict: Satisfactory. If you buy an LCD-2 and you cannot upgrade
the E9 for awhile, don't worry, it won't be as bad as you think.
 
 
Sennheiser HD650
 

 
 
Volume was set to 11 to 12 'o clock depending on the track.
This was a very pleasant surprise, by now you're already guessing
my next turn on words. Yes, the Burson 160 showed more detail,
it particularly seemed to interpret guitar through the HD650 more
convincingly than the E9 in terms of tone, cymbal decay was also
more extended and satisfying through the Burson, however the
E9 on less than super high quality tracks ~ bridged the gap ~
and the HD650's forgiving signature on the E9 seemed to be more difficult
to pick on Cyndi Lauper than with some of the numbers from
HDtracks.com in 24bit/96Khz.
 
Verdict: Recommended, quite a good match ~ yes it surprised - a lot.
 
 
Sennheiser HD800
 

 
Some Head-Fi members from the 'High End' forum may be brandishing
their torches ready for a lynching right about now 

 
Again, I cannot reiterate this enough ~ 12 'o clock on the dial and the
volume was high enough to definitely vibrate my ear drums.
 
Dynamically speaking? Ahh not so good, then again it was saved by
the fact that it's classier counterpart - the Burson 160 - did not put
up much of a show with the HD800 either. Sound stage began to
grow and emanate on the Burson while on the Fiio E9 it failed
to materialize in the first place. Still, the pace through Mozart's
Allegro was quite satisfying on the E9 and overall while it did not convey
the true ability of the HD800 ~ it did not make a mess of it as
anticipated - I can think of a few other amps for more money
that certainly have performed not as notably as the little Fiio. 
 
Yes, we're looking at you Nuforce Icon 

 
*Updated 4th December 2011*
 
* Violectric V181 replaced the Burson 160 as the comparative amp
  for the following two headphones:- Pro 900 & DT990 600ohm.
 
 
Ultrasone Pro 900
 

 
Volume dial on the E9 was set to 9 o clock. This headphone
is renowned for it's big textured bass and somewhat recessed
mids, the V181 amplifier revealed this to be quite true, lots of
leakage over from the upper bass region into vocals. The E9
however with it's forward presentation made this less prominent
- to my ears the Fiio E9 was a better match! Alas, the Pro 900's
bass took a hit, there was less of it and the quality suffered
compared to the German V181. A real dilemma for those 
considering this combination. It will make your Pro 900 more
versatile outside of electronic beat based music but the bass
performance on it's own may disappoint. 
 
Verdict: Recommended, especially if you want to use your Pro 900
for a bit of everything, vocals were reasonable.
 
 
Beyerdynamic DT 990 (600-ohm)
 

 
This headphone is one prickly pear having already refused to perform
with an SPL Phonitor and Sugden Masterclass HA4, this one is my
very own and I was starting to sweat after this realisation - would this
headphone like any amplifier I had on offer? 

 
Volume was set to 12 o clock on the Fiio E9 for maximum volume.
 
Thankfully both delivered in this instance, the Violectric V181 
sounded more forward than the E9 which was quite unusual
given that the Fiio has been the more forward amp in most
match-ups up until now. Transparency and background detail
also went to the V181 but the E9 held it's ground with this 600ohm
beast - keeping the DT990's attributes in check, big mid-bass to rival
the Pro 900 (while lacking the Pro's sub bass signature) and the highs
were nicely extended. The real difference was in the details, you could
hear things in the musical background on the V181 like a faint guitar chord,
a drum snare here or there, while on the E9 - that detail disappeared
completely.
 
Verdict: Recommended, it deserves the credit for powering the big
Beyer and delivering a coherent performance, no harsh highs at all
to my ears which is a revelation considering this can has a reputation
for that. 
 
 
Overall Conclusions
 
Hopefully this round-up has cleared up a few debates
 
1) The Fiio E9 will positively rip your head off with blaring volume using an HD800 on low gain after
    you pass the 2 o clock position. 
 
2) If you think of headphone amplifers as just a means of increasing volume. Then the E9 is the
    best thing since the invention of the wheel and sliced bread. Look no further.
 
3) The real picture is that once you head into $500+ headphone territory, it's not about volume,
    it's about letting those little nuances, details, tiny differences that make-up a high end headphone's
    personality to shine through the music as it passes through the amp.
 
    Sadly, this is where the E9 hits a wall, it cannot convey the true signal from a Chesky or Linn Records
    24/96 analogue signal, somewhere in it's design the message is muddled up somewhat. What comes out
    at the headphone is more often than not, perfectly acceptable ~ but it would make no sense to spend your
    hard earned cash for such headphone only to hear 80% or so of what it can do. Sound stage, detail,
    separation and especially Prat will suffer immensely.
 
 
  Fiio E9
 
  Strengths ~ Powerful, able to deliver ample volume to any headphone on the market today,
  grain-free presentation, well built, light and beyond good value for the price. Will suit a lot of
  $100-$250 headphones.
 
  Weaknesses ~ It will make any flagship loud but you're not hearing what it can do anyway,
  scratchy background noise while fiddling with volume when not playing music. 
 
I would like to extend a huge thank you to George at Addicted to Audio in Melbourne for giving
me the opportunity, time and space to conduct this 4 hour long audition today. He deserves a
big thank you for being a huge part of the headphone community down here. I'm not the only
one who appreciates this I'm sure.
 
 
 
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Chris J

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Thanks!
A very interesting read!
And we all thought you needed massive tubes to light up those 'phones!

 
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JRG1990

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The e9's only limtations are the 10ohm output impendance and 43ohm on the 3.5mm jack and the -88db noise level and the noise the pot makes when adjusting it, it measures flat 20hz-20khz - 0.1db no bass or treble roll off the high output impendance might alter this on low impendance headphones below 64ohm but otherwise it will be fine.
 
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Gwarmi

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I'd heard it before but today the penny really dropped - it's a cracking piece of gear for $134 over the counter
over here - I've heard so much worse at double the price.
 
AKG Q701 would've been nice to put through this test but alas it was still in transit.
 
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nmxdaven

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interesting post! I think I will be trying out my E9 with my 650's now!

 
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chicolom

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Excellent write up!  Perfectly done.  I love the diversity with the multi headphone comparisons.  This could be an excellent guide for people trying to gauge whether the E9 will work well with their particular headphone.
 
Thanks for doing this

 
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genclaymore

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I liked the Fiio E9 when I got it, The OPA2134 didn't work that well with my AKG 702's but I liked the fact it had machine op-amp sockets. So I opened it up and tried different op-amps in it, and settled with the LT 1364 with the AKG 702s which I used with the fiio E9 on High gain.  With my DT 880 pro 250, I use OPA2111AM in it or LT1364,But I still use High gain.  I did try the OPA2134 back in it but its narrowness and its  bass was mudy or boomy like sound signature made me take it back out.
 
I don't regret my Fiio E9 purchase mainly as it what I could afford, As i like the fact i can just rely on it to control the volume without having to do it on my sound card. Tho I just wish it case was more workable for rolling op-amps and bigger in-case I get around to putting Distree op-amps in it. Right now those will not fit unless I was handy with power tools which I not and tried to make a bigger case for it.
 
Tho I admit if I had a bunch of money or money income I prolly would had gotten that Matrix M amp instead because of its being bigger inside.
 
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Gwarmi
Nice write up mate.  Bet you had fun auditioning all the gear too

 
I really enjoyed my E7/E9 combo when I had them - and as far as volume goes, the E9 is incredibly powerful.  This year I switched to an Audio-gd NFB-12.  Wasn't sure if it would be a side-grade or not when I did it, but ultimately glad I did.  The Fiio combo is very close in price to the NFB-12.   Like you I also found the biggest difference was in dynamics - with the NFB-12 just having more body.
 
I'll be interested to see any incremental changes when I can eventually afford to upgrade source and amp again (hopefully sometime next year).  Next purchase likely to be Valhalla/Bifrost combo.
 
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Gwarmi

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 Just thinking but if anyone wants to add their headphone + E9 (picture and small review) to this thread, it could be only a very good thing as a future
 guide for newbies setting out on their first amplifier adventure.
 
 We all see the Fiio E9 questions day in, day out ~ posting up your take on things could perhaps make this a good future resource - who knows! 

 
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olor1n

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Yeah, nice writeup Gwarmi. Imagine what FiiO could do if they went beyond the entry level and offered similar bang for buck in the higher end (like what Schiit are doing).
 
Btw, I'm envious of the components in your chain. You just need "better" cans.

 
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nikp

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Now what we need is your first impressions on the headphones. 

 
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Gwarmi

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Quote:
Yeah, nice writeup Gwarmi. Imagine what FiiO could do if they went beyond the entry level and offered similar bang for buck in the higher end (like what Schiit are doing).
 
Btw, I'm envious of the components in your chain. You just need "better" cans.


Haha yes, that flagship will come one day 

 
Still procrastinating over which one can gets my hard earned dollars!
 
It's looking like the HD800 at the moment unless the new LCD-3 pulls a massive performance on the day when it lands in Melbourne.
 
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olor1n

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Your source first approach is a good one. I wish I'd gone down that route instead of being a cheapskate and dabbling in the buy and sell of entry level. If I could hit reset and spend what I've spent to date again, I'd go with a W4S DAC2/V200/LCD-2/HD650 rig (and probably pocket some change).
 
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Eric_C

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This thread is a great idea! Subscribed!
 
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Gwarmi

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Quote:
Your source first approach is a good one. I wish I'd gone down that route instead of being a cheapskate and dabbling in the buy and sell of entry level. If I could hit reset and spend what I've spent to date again, I'd go with a W4S DAC2/V200/LCD-2/HD650 rig (and probably pocket some change).


I totally agree, most people on here thought I was crackers for going source and amp plus interconnects first ~ but I wanted to push every
headphone in my line-up along the way, to see how far it could be pushed in terms of fidelity before any upgrades in ancillary gear showed
no improvement.
 
I guess that's what came out of the Fiio E9 review,
 
I'd take a HD650 plus the Burson 160 and Violectric V800 over a HD800 with an E9/E7 any day. The HD800 should really fly away with
the win but the gear will hold it back from even getting started.
 
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