FiioO is an interesting company. It’s Chinese and produces remarkably cheap audio products that are often remarkably good. They also often offer functionality not available from bigger names, winning the company a hearty following among audiophiles without bottomless pockets. The FiiO E6 is the follow-up to the popular E5, and is a teensy headphone amplifier with a built-in battery.
The most common misconception about headphone amplifiers they’re bought solely to make music louder, when any self-respecting audio nut primarily buys an amp to improve sound quality. Some may baulk at the idea, but really it’s no different to buying a decent amp for an at-home separates system.
Even those afraid of putting hands in pockets may be attracted by the FiiO E6 though. It’s dead cheap and has a real effect on the signal passed through it, just like its predecessor the E5.
Although a similar sort of size, some significant changes have been made in this iteration. The metal outer casing of the E5 has been traded-in for glossy black plastic. Consequently it doesn’t feel as tough as its forbear. It has also resulted in a drastic weight loss. Where the E5 was 30g, this is almost half the weight at just 16g. This ultra-light weight is a massive plus, making it light enough to dangle off a pair of earphones without causing damage or major annoyance.
This isn’t how it’s meant to be worn though. The FiiO E6 comes with a transparent plastic belt clip that sits into the lanyard loop on the top-right edge of the box. It’s not quite as sturdy as the springy metal clip of the original E5, but without it attached, it’s far more stylish than its rather (with hindsight) utilitarian predecessor.
Here's a comparison of the E5 against the E6
Exactly what to do with it is still a bit of a problem though. The supplied cable is fairly short, so unless you buy a replacement you won’t be wearing the E6 on your lapel. We were happy to leave it nestled in a pocket alongside our test MP3 player, but even then it’s an inconvenience – over simply not using a headphone amp. Fiio also offers a thick rubber band to tie one of its amps to your player. Convenient? Ish. Stylish? Not really, no. The moral of the story? Make sure this won't put you off using a FiiO E6 before buying.
While it may not feel like a high-end device in-hand, build quality is perfectly decent. There’s a tiny amount of flex if you squeeze the E6 between thumb and forefinger, but as it’s so simple and light it’ll handle drops and scrapes with ease. Just as an ant will keep on moving if it falls a distance hundreds of times its own height.
On the FiiO E6’s bottom edge are the miniUSB charging socket and the 3.5mm input socket. The similarly-sized output (where you plug your headphones) is on top. The sides are home to the controls. Its left edge houses the volume buttons and the right the power switch. There’s a lot more to this switch than it may at first appear though. It also acts as a hold toggle and selects EQ modes. A quick prod on this switch cycles between the four settings (Off, EQ1, EQ2, EQ3) and a long press turns the power on and off. It’s smart, cheap and looks pretty good, but does it have a positive effect on sound?