W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

This page is full of non-facts and bullsh!t, (just like the internet and especially forums and other blogs), please do not believe entirely without exercising your intellect. Any resemblance to real things in reality is purely coincidental. You are free to interpret/misinterpret the content however you like, most likely for entertainment, but in no case is the text written on this blog the absolute truth. The blog owner and Blogger are not responsible for any misunderstanding of ASCII characters as facts. *cough* As I was saying, you are free to interpret however you like. *cough*

Saturday, October 18, 2008

FiiO E3 Headphone Amplifier - the SGD$12 amp - review

I wonder why reviews are called re-views when most of the time the reviewer has only seen it once, so where did the "re" come about? And for many readers who have not seen the item in real-life yet it should be called a pre-view.

Enough with the misnomers, lets get on with the, um, view.

I bought a FiiO E3 headphone amp for a few reasons. It's cheap, I wanted a portable amp for my PSP, it's cheap and small so it wouldn't hurt, it's said to have sound quality that rivals or even beats the Go-Vibe Petite, and it's cheap so it's very good value. Did I mention it's cheap?

Want to know the price? Google or search the forums for it. I bought it online so it's even cheaper.

First Impressions

It's much smaller than I thought. I though it was the size of a Creative MuVo, but it was even smaller, like AA battery versus AAA battery.

One thing I can tell you, the build quality sucks. While it looks very nice when new, this is how it looks like after a day of my normal use outside:

Pretty bad eh? It looks like it's gone through outfield, more than once.

The words here are already gone.

And the bundled interconnect, it has bad contact since day one. Talk about QC.

The "View"

Now this is the part that's the most important and you're interested in. I'll be testing the FiiO amp against the built-in amp of the Zhaolu D2.5, my DIY 6SN7 tube preamp/headphone amp, and an AMB Mini3.

All of the above is false. I'm not going to test it against any of those because 1) The built-in amp of the Zhaolu has been disabled by me to reduce noise to the DAC 2) My 6SN7 preamp production is under frozen animation and 3) I don't own a Mini3.

But the real reason is, there's just no reason to compare against any of those because they're all of a much higher class than the FiiO, and because of an additional reason which will be stated below. I did manage to hear it and the Mini3 side-by-side but the gap is too obvious. I don't have a Go-Vibe Petite to test though.

Take a look at this graph. Bass boost is an understatement. Ear fatigue is almost as free of charge as the parade I was forced to attend recently.

With such a frequency response, the FiiO cannot be directly compared against anything that respects audio. So I'll look into how I use it and enjoy it.

"Normal" usage - as in in the house or outside, just not on the bus or train

Bass is too powerful, ear is too pain. Bass is uncontrolled and boomy, and spills over to the mids and some trebles. Feeling of space is greatly reduced as with the details. Basically, this thing is total crap. It's good for one thing though, hearing your player through it for 1/4 of a song then removing it will make you realize how good your player actually is.

It's amazing how people can claim getting much improvement in SQ with it; getting even any improvement is just plain impossible. But, as mentioned by a friend of mine, you don't need to use the product in order to write a review. It is in the same league as the Go-Vibe Petite though, in the sense that your earphones actually sounds worse through it. But how worse is hard to decide due to the bass boost by the FiiO, although I might think the FiiO is better.

One thing: The bass boost will help if your earphones is bass-wimpy, or if you think having more bass is good. Usually the two will come together (for beginners), and buying a $12 amp says it all. THAT might account for the "more dynamics" and better bass part, although I still don't see how it helps the soundstage. Perhaps having reduced highs have the feeling of the instruments being further away.

Usage on the train/bus

I usually listen at a low volume. Rather, I can only listen at a low volume to prevent further damage to my already-damaged ears. Sidetrack a bit, my guide is to listen at home at a comfortably loud and clear but not too loud level, and use up to the same volume to listen while on the go. Reason because being outside will make your music seem softer, but it's still there. Ever adjusted your player to a nice and clear level outside to realize it's deafeningly loud when you're in your room? Imagine the amount of damage it will do to your ears under extended periods, even though you're not hearing it that loud.

The problem with sound reproduction devices is that the bass sounds more when the volume is louder. And the problem with vehicles is that most of the noise is of a lower frequency, hence masking the bass. In short, bass is in short supply when I'm outside. I'm using the more bassy X3i and it's just barely enough when I'm on the train.

The FiiO amp changes the situation with the bass boost. With it, the sound is much better, and strangely it really does sound as though the soundstage is wider. Probably from the reduced highs. Loss of details isn't important when everything is so noisy and you just want a more correct sound signature.

However, after a while ear fatigue kicks in (please deduce the reason from 3 paragraphs above), after a few days, I decided to remove it.

As a preamp/bass-boost

Note: You should never, never add or need a bass-boost if your speakers are anywhere near being accurate. A pair of 5-inch's, placed correctly, can produce a lot of bass.

But my 3-inchers that are supposed to work (and works very well) with a subwoofer do not produce enough bass alone. So comes the FiiO.

Bass is improved in amount, but still does not hit low enough.

Guess you can't get a dead horse to run faster.

Details are reduced. But we already know that.


I dunno if this thing will be useful to you, but to me it seems more like a bass-booster than a headamp. It will be useful if you really need the bass boost, or if you're those audio noobs who just want an amp for the sake of having one thinking it improves sound quality instead of trusting your ears.

But for $12, can't complain much. I even think it's still worth the money. I mean, bass-boost, small size, cheap, it's a good thing to keep by your side. :)

No comments: