Fiio is a Chinese maker of audio equipment that has become well known for offering good gear at highly competitive prices. With a lineup of competent, if not highly compelling, DAPs, amplifiers, and DACs, Fiio has generally been incredibly fast in reacting to audiophile market trends. The previous E11 was a budget portable amplifier aimed primarily at winning the hearts (and ears) of IEM/ portable headphone users. It turned out to be quite successful, and received some serious praise from many members of the audio community for offering a solid SQ in a small package (size and budget-wise). However, the E11 did leave a few things to be desired, including a better housing, sharper design, and a refined SQ.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Sunny @ Fiio for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Fiio. All media rights are reserved.
The E11K comes in a no frills package. The thin laminated paper cardboard box opens to reveal a pullout tray covered with faux crocodile skin. It is a rather odd design choice, but Fiio products aren’t about awe-inspiring unboxing experiences anyways. The expected accessories can be found, including a few rubber bands, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, and 6 3M-rubber feet. It is a bit of a shame to see the 30-pin to 3.5 mm cable go, but I guess that that can largely be attributed to Apple’s move to adopt the all-digital Lightning cable.
Fiio has definitely stepped up its game in terms of build quality. The new E11K now sports the same black, brushed aluminum exterior that can be found on the Fiio X3 DAP, E12 Mont Blanc, etc. Needless to say, it looks pretty darned good. The volume control feels solid, and is protected by a conical leading edge on both sides (Astell & Kern anybody?). On the same side as the volume control are the gain and bass boost controls. Both controls are flip switches made out of plastic, and do jut out a fair bit from the player. Take extra care as you remove the rubber bands from your E11K/DAP setup, as simply sliding it off the player will cause the rubber band to slide onto the two plastic controls (and possibly snap the plastic bits).
On the other side of the amp are the Micro USB charging, line out, and headphone out ports. Why Fiio chose to have the headphone out on the opposite side of the volume control is beyond me. The ergonomics of this setup are naturally rather awkward and even a little troublesome at times. I had to reach deep into my pocket (thankfully, not for my wallet) to get to the volume control.
The Fiio E11K has juice. For a 60 dollar amp, it can power IEMs wonderfully and some headphones quite well. Turning the E11K on and off, I couldn’t help but to notice the rather significant pop. To mitigate possible damage, I generally preferred to unplug my earphones first in both of the above situations. This is troublesome, especially considering that this amp is most often used in portable setups. I should really just be able to just flick toggle on and off with relative ease and not have to worry about possible hardware damage.
The sound is relatively pleasant, and leans slightly towards the warmer side of things. The amp is relatively conventional, and doesn’t make any unexpected changes or additions to SQ (not that an amp should really be doing the former in my opinion). Soundstage is moderately sized, but I wished that it was slightly larger. Imaging, like the soundstage, is pretty good as well. However, do not expect to be able to pinpoint every detail or the location of the various instruments. It is very important to note that this amplifier is only sixty dollars though! For sixty bucks, it’s doing a great job at simply fulfilling its job scope –amplifying sound.
Bass boost is surprisingly unobtrusive, and adds bottom end fullness without causing significant bleed into the mids. In fact, some might be disappointed that this isn’t producing a huge bass bump. I found this to be a great thing for IEMs though. More often than not, IEMs need just a slight alteration of SQ and not massive overhaul courtesy of the amplifier. For my ATH-IM02s, the Fiio E11K gave just a small push that helped to make the earphones more musical (by enhancing low frequency performance).
Fiio has done a great job in my opinion. While users who have listened to more expensive setups will probably not be wowed by the E11K, it’s hard not to be impressed by the good SQ at the extremely reasonable price point. For portable use, I feel the E11Ks do a wonderful job, and those who have not been amping their earphones/headphones or are considering a more portable setup should definitely look into this mean, lean, amping machine.