Finally… the FiiO E12 Mont Blanc!
We’ve been eagerly waiting for the arrival of the FiiO E12 portable amplifier ever since we first heard about it from Marcus of Headfonics. The reason is because we’ve had a few high powered cans like the HiFiMan HE-4 parked in the Unbox HQ and we didn’t have the budget to purchase amplifiers worth Php20,000. The FiiO E12 boasted of incredible power in a compact form factor with an affordable price tag (Php5,800). We finally got our hands on one and we’ve been testing it for the last few days and it definitely lives up to the hype! Read on for our initial impressions and observations.
Before anything… what are amplifiers for?
Amplifiers enhance the sound quality by giving more power to the audio source (iPod, Smartphone, Laptop). Premium headphones and earphones require more power than your run-of-the-mill Apple earbuds. Usual sources like iPods and smartphones don’t have enough power to maximize the drives on those headphones. Amplifiers, like the FiiO E12, solves that problem by throwing in more power to the mix. This results to better, richer, and fuller sound quality even at high volumes.
In short you will hear stuff you don’t hear when you’re just using crappy earphones. The result is a more pleasant and deliciously addictive audio “nirvana”.
Unboxing the FiiO E12 and Hardware Check
The FiiO E12 came in the usual FiiO white and red printed carton box. There isn’t much information on the box though and this is something that FiiO can greatly improve on. The benefits of amplifiers aren’t well known, especially to the mass consumer market. At the very least FiiO should include a short paragraph on how amplifiers improve music quality somewhere in there. Without a strong marketing/product message on the box, people will end up ignoring this when they see it on the shelves of gadget shops. The messaging is also critical so that consumers can differentiate between the different FiiO products, otherwise they all just look the same. For example, there’s no mention on the box that the FiiO E12 is all about driving power. That’s a lost opportunity right there.
Anyway, we opened the box and the first thing that greeted us was the gorgeous FiiO E12. It definitely looked big for a portable amplifier. The size and form factor reminded me of the original bulky classic iPods, lol. If you haven’t seen one of those it’s roughly the same size as a deck of cards.
In terms of design the FiiO E12 was all black and had some sort of brushed metal finish which gave it a very sleek and premium look. The knobs, ports, and controls are all neatly placed at the sides. The FiiO logo is embossed in white on one side while regulation logos and markings on the other.
Here’s a quick rundown on those controls. Just read the caption in the photos.
We found it weird that they made the controls for Crossfeed and Gain recessed. As we mentioned above you need some sort of hook, tool, or sharp object to be able to toggle it. Maybe FiiO wanted to make sure you don’t accidentally switch them when the amp is in your pocket? Also the volume knob is ridiculously tight and hard to turn. The only explanation we could think of was that, again, FiiO wanted to reduce unintentional volume ups which could result to ear damage.
Over-all the form factor of the FiiO E12 is nice. It’s simple, professional, and elegant. The only downside is that it’s quite big but the reason behind that is that this thing has so much power. We’ll talk more about that in the performance overview.
What else is in the box?
Inside the box we also found your usual FiiO custom fit pouch, a micro USB to USB cable, some rubber bands (to make it easier to carry around the device with your player), an audio jack, and manuals. Basically everything you need is already there.
Now we get to the important part — how does it perform? In a word? Amazing. This device truly has a lot of power to drive hungry headphones! It was able to power our HiFiMan HE-4 (laptop -> FiiO E12 -> HiFiMan He-4) albeit we had to max out the volume on the amp and a few levels before max on the laptop and iTunes. The music that came out was definitely amazing, with more warmth, fuller mids, and tighter bass. It’s on a totally different level and class compared to the FiiO E11.
We’re definitely impressed so far with the FiiO E12 and we highly recommend it to music lovers. It will definitely make your music sound much better, especially if you have a good source, nice audio files, and great headphones. Put them all together and throw in air-con, a nice sofa, and wine and you’re all set for bliss.
The FiiO E12 is now availably locally for just php5,800.