FiiO E5: User test review

Tony Andrews writes: As you will find out the more you read my ramblings I’m very old fashioned and don’t agree with the way the Record Industry is moving. I do appreciate that we live in a world of technology – but I’m opposed to the downloading of music. This will eventually eliminate the ability to just go and buy CD's. Now that I've expressed my ‘gripe’ let's talk about a way of improving the awful sound IPods and the like can be achieved for those who like listening to music on the move.
I was walking down Tottenham Court Road one Saturday afternoon and was fascinated by a tiny gadget the size of a book of matches. On investigation I discovered this was a Headphone Amplifier from a company called FiiO Model E5.
I went in to the shop to ask more but all they could tell me was it's £30 so I went home and had a Google to find out all about this tiny thing.
The first thing I found was that it was much cheaper online and the reviews raved about the performance of the E5 so I decided to buy one. There is a very obliging dealer in East London who not only gave me a cracking deal he let me go a collect to save postage and waiting for the delivery.
The nice dealer Michael Martin suggested giving me a demonstration on arriving at his office, this was done with an IPod through basic on the ear phones. He selected some typical music the younger generation like and played direct from the IPod. The sound was flat, lifeless and awful. He then connected the FiiO E5 inline and let me listen again.
After a few minutes I removed the phones and Michael said I hope you could hear the difference –it’s subtle he said. At this stage I suggested he should get his ears dewaxed as the difference was huge and in Hi-Fi terms staggering. He seemed surprised at my comments but chucked in a very nice protective pouch and I bought 2, one in Black and one in Silver.
I got home and charged up the Black one via a USB Charger, waited the two hours and plugged my Sennheiser HD 600 in to it and had a listen through a Sony Portable Mini Disc player. The HD 600 is difficult to drive and the Sony direct was not pleasant to listen to and so quiet as to be pointless. With the E5 the sound was transformed.
It was now loud enough to listen to – but with true Hi-Fi performance. One of the few criticisms of the E5 by someone who clearly had no idea was that it had poor channel separation. It had in fact a perfect balance of Left, Right and Centre. Most Headphone Amps are so Left and Right that the sound attacks your head like a clamp with no Centre sound.
I can recommend the E5 highly and I think it’s as good or even better than my Musical Fidelity Valve Headphone Amp. This tiny miracle is assembled in China although the components are all made up chips from Texas Instruments so you know the quality is there. The finish is very good and has a tiny volume control and Bass Boost which works – but not really required. It will clip to your top pocket so provides an easily accessible volume control if you want to leave your IPod safely in your pocket.
The latest news is that the larger version E7 is available, this has the same components in a larger case with two very important additions, two Headphone Sockets and a built in Wolfson DAC. This means you can connect directly via USB to a Laptop or, more excitingly, to your IPad and it overrides the internal sound card. This produces much higher quality sound. Apparently Apple are showing a lot of interest – so don’t be surprised if Apple brand these or buy FiiO. If they do the price will rocket – so be quick.
Check them out at The MP3 Amplifier Co or call Michael Martin on 07810374299. If you are reading this then you must know Howard Popeck lovely man, Hi-Fi Guru and expert in Headphones. If you are intending to buy one of his recommended products then this would be the perfect way of using High End Headphones on portable gear such as IPod, Mini Disc etc.