I sure did take my time getting to this review. My apologies. Nevertheless, here we go. A review of the FiiO E6 Portable Headphone Amplifier, $28 on Amazon.com and worth every penny if you have larger headphones or want to squeeze a little more sound quality out of your devices. You’re using an iDevice with a 30-pin dock, add on the FiiO line out dock adapter for just $7-10 more.
Right now you might be asking, “Justin, why would I buy the a headphone amplifier and line out dock connector?” Basically, everything sounds a little bit better and a lot louder and the benefits can be heard with even cheaper headphones. Here’s why.
Portable audio devices that aren’t aimed at audiophiles like the HiFiMan HM-901($999) are designed to make the highest profit with the lowest cost. Apple spends more time polishing the things people see right off the bat, hence a Retina screen and industrial design. What they aren’t worrying themselves with are features that 90% of the population would never notice, like the quality of the audio amplifier.
Apple used to post iPod amplifier specs but they haven’t done that in ages, for good reason.
The majority of people don’t have nice headphones connected to their iPhone. They are using the ones Apple gave them, either the earbuds (gag) or the Earpods (meh, not too horrible). These headphones, and most after-market headphones you see around, don’t have the ability to show off the nuances of music and especially don’t illustrate the limitations of the iPhone or iPod amplifier. But if you start investing even a little bit of money in something like Grado SR80i ($100) or Audio-Technica ATH-M50S ($129) and you’ll see right away the benefits of an external amplifier.
|Model Name/Number||E06||Color Available||Black|
|Audio Input||3.5mm stereo jack||Headphone output||3.5mm stereo Jack|
|Volume Control||Digital volume control||Bass Boost||2 Level|
|Drive ability||16~150 Ohm||Power input||5V/500mA|
|Battery Capacity||>160mAH||Battery Life||> 17 hours|
|Output Power||> 100 mW@32 Ohm||Charging Time||<120 minutes|
|THD||0.02%@1KHz||Output Impedance||<0.3 Ohm|
|Frequency Response||10Hz~80KHz||Signal to Noise Ratio||>100dB|
|Input Sensitivity||650mV||MAX input Level||> 2 Vrms|
|Crosstalk||> 67dB@1KHz||Channel imbalance||> 0.05 dB|
|Gain||> 6.5dB||Bass Boost||> 4.5 Db @100Hz|
|MAX output voltage||>4.7 Vp-p||MAX output current||> 50 mA|
FiiO E6 Design
The FiiO E6 is essentially the same size as one of the older Apple iPod Nano players but since it’s made of plastic instead of glass and metal, it’s even lighter. Its high-gloss finish picks up fingerprints and the entire thing feels kind of cheap. Of course it is pretty cheap at just $28 so I suppose that’s expected. What matters is that the Fiio E6 doesn’t sound cheap.
The top of the amp has a headphone output, the bottom has a USB port for charging and line input from your audio source. There is a silver volume toggle bar and a silver sliding bar that turns it on, changes EQ and sets the “Hold” feature. This gets a little confusing at times.
On the back of the FiiO 6 is a tiny LED status light. There are four modes in total, off, red, blue and purple. Sliding up once turns it on, twice goes to red, then blue and on the fourth it’s purple. The four settings control the equalizer (EQ).
- No light – EQ off
- Red light – 3dB bass boost
- Blue light – 6dB boost split between bass and highs
- Purple light – decrease of 3dB for high input devices
For a flat music experience, as the audio engineer intended, keep it on the EQ off mode. The red mode boosts bass quite a bit, too much for me. The blue mode cuts the bass boost in half for a warm but not boomy sound. I like this setting when I’m wanting to have fun with music. The purple setting would be used only if you’re using an input signal that is high which will probably never be the case. In short, I choose flat or blue
Despite it’s cheap feel in hand, the FiiO E6 does a great job. For headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Grado SR80i, Sennheiser HD 558 and really any larger headphones, the FiiO E6 will provide a sometimes necessary bump in volume. Quieter headphones, those with higher impedance or lower sensitivity, will sound remarkably better with any decent amplifier, luckily this amp is both decent and affordable.
However, if you’re looking for something to power something like the Sennheiser Sennheiser HD 600/HD 650/HD 800, you should look to the FiiO E11 or some other higher powered amp. While FiiO says this amp is suitable for headphones up to 300 Ohms, I disagree. Anything over 150 Ohms won’t shine with this amp. Actually if you have any of those Sennheiser headphones, invest a little more money for a professional portable or desktop amp. I love the stuff from Headroom.
You get none of the benefits of a dedicated digital to analog converter (DAC) but you also save quite a bit of money. If a DAC is something you want, check out the FiiO E17 USB DAC Headphone Amplifier.
With this amp paired with the Audio-Technica headphones mentioned above, music became more lively and warm. I found myself listening to more dubstep and other bass heavy music and noticed I switched the EQ to the blue setting more and more. I found this EQ setting better than any of the preconfigured iTunes EQ settings, it was quite addictive.
If you’re using headphones like the Grados or Etymotic Research, the blue setting turns your flat response headphones into warmer, bassier and generally more fun headphones. Sometimes you want a flat response and other times you just want to have a little fun. This amp allows for both!
There is a hiss noticeable at time when no audio is playing. For a $28 amp, this is considered totally acceptable and is inaudible once music is being played. Battery life is stated to be 10 and then sometimes 17 hours. I’m not sure why there is the confusing but from my experience I’d say that’s about right depending on how you use it. At full volume, 10 hours, at regular listening volumes, 17. I’ve never timed it but it has also never died on me. A quick charge up through any USB port keeps it tapped up.
Conclusion and Tips
- Buy this amplifier if you find the volume of your headphones out of your portable music player anemic and weak.
- Buy this amplifier if you want higher quality amplification than what comes from your iPhone.
- Buy this amplifier if you want to try out amplification without blowing a ton of money.
- Don’t buy this if you are using generic, unexceptional headphones. You won’t realize any of the benefits unless you have headphones that can take advantage of amplification.
If you are using the headphone jack as an audio source, keep the source at around 75% volume. I found this prevented clipping on the input side.
Before I go I want to give you a quick tip. If you are using this with an iPhone, skip the headphone jack on it and use a line-out dock adapter instead. This will bypass the mediocre iPod/iPhone amplifier by using the line output of the iDevice. I use this the adapter on the right. It’s only a few dollars and totally worth it. They come in various lengths for your convenience and have top notch build quality.