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FiiO E7 - DAC Performance and Verdict

By Hugo Jobling

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Editors choice
FiiO E7

Summary

Our Score:

10

While the amplifier may have done a good job of rounding out subtle tones, the E7's DAC goes further to bring out detail previously rendered inaudible by both our iPod and PC's own decoding circuitry. It's always a delight to listen to a track and finally find yourself able to discern just what's being said in that whispered dialogue over an interlude or to make out what the lyrics are to a song without needing to resort to the liner notes (or Google, if you're not the CD-buying type). The latter achievement is particularly satisfying with a group like Band of Horses, where some of the words are deliberately sung in a manner intended to be hard to decipher (because screw you, that's why).

It's worth noting that as is always the case with good quality audio equipment, you're not going to get more out of it than you put in. Although its £60 price point makes the FiiO E7 a great entry level DAC/amp combo, it's not going to make a pair of Apple earbuds sound like a set of Shure SE535 triple-driver IEMs. And even if you’re using some fairly high-end 'phones, you'll need to make sure you have good source material, too, because the FiiO E7 will highlight deficiencies in low bit-rate recordings. FLAC isn't necessarily required, but 320kbps MP3s are as compressed as you want your files to be. After all, you wouldn't watch VHS movies on a Kuro, would you?

However, if you're spending something like a hundred pounds or so on your headphones, we'd argue that £60 invested in the FiiO E7 will reap a much more noticeable improvement in audio quality than that same money spent on even pricier cans or IEMs. And while you're likely to go through a number of headphones over the course of a few years, a good DAC and amplifier is an investment that should last much longer than that.

Verdict

Considering the relatively low price, the boost in audio quality afforded by the FiiO E7 is nothing short of astounding. The competition is going to have its work seriously cut out in the face of this new champion of the price performance ratio for USB-connected DAC-equipped headphone amplifiers.

Overall Score

10

Scores In Detail

  • Sound Quality 10
  • Value 10

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  1. Fiio E9 Headphone Amp + E7 DAC

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Christian

August 28, 2010, 5:01 pm

I'm never entirely sure how these can be practically used -





Could I for instance plug this into my computer and then plug my current sound setup into it, using it as a sort of preamp to clean up the signal, and get a dramatically better sound for films and music played through my normal speakers?

Zeus

August 28, 2010, 6:09 pm

I have the FiiO E5 and I love it, mainly used for when I'm listening to music on a plane and I find the device doesn't quite get the volume high enough. Was actually using it last night/this morning on a flight from San Diego and funny enough I was thinking if there was an updated model. Freaky.

CSMR

August 28, 2010, 10:18 pm

"While the amplifier may have done a good job of rounding out subtle tones, the E7's DAC goes further to bring out detail previously rendered inaudible by both our iPod and PC's own decoding circuitry."


Again, there's some basic knowledge needed before doing audio reviews like this. Subjectivity is a huge problem in audio evaluations, that's why you need controlled evaluations to have any reliability. Just like in medicine. Unless the differences are enormous (e.g. typical mobile phone compared to typical desktop speaker compared to typical micro system compared to high-end audio system) any purely subjective judgments have very little value to a well-informed reader. And to an uninformed reader, it's the blind leading the blind.





DACs


You should know that DACs are extremely unimportant compared to other factors in determining audio fidelity. This is a proven fact:


http://www.aes.org/e-lib/brows...


So even old 16/44 equipment, and even 16/44 ADCs which are worse, do not make an audible difference to a group of audiophiles. And of course modern DACs are at least 24/96 and exceed the theoretical boundaries of 16/44 by a large margin.





Amps:


These can be important but what is important are basically two things: 1. do they have a completely inaudible noise floor. 2. Do they have vanishingly low output impedance (significant output impedance can cause non-flat frequency response when given a real load).





For useful tests that can be done in house, you should consider a rightmark loopback test: http://audio.rightmark.org/ind...


This has been done on a lot of sound cards and amplifiers and provides a useful comparison, especially when the amplifiers have an actual headphone load.





Again, I know very little about this sound card. For people who don't need speakers and have headphones with 3.5mm connections it may be a good choice and is certainly cheap compared to low-end semi-pro sound cards, albeit much more limited.

Hamish Campbell

August 29, 2010, 1:18 am

Nice. I have a penguin amp, which I love (classic case of not wanting to listen to player without it). The styling and finish of this is awesome though. Penguin amp guy is no longer selling the cmoy player anymore, now only the Arrow amp for over 200 euros.





Headstage Arrow amp


http://www.headstage.com/The-A...

PoisonJam

August 30, 2010, 4:35 pm

I have Creative T20s (which I occasionally use Grado SR80s with) running off on-board audio. I'm thinking of upgrading my speakers to a better 2.0 set. Would this DAC connected by USB effectively replace my on-board sound i.e. be a soundcard upgrade?

Chris

August 31, 2010, 8:43 pm

@PoisonJam: As mentioned in the review, this device doesn't have a line level output for amplified speakers, so perhaps you'd be better off just getting a better sound card, an X-Fi for example. Not ideal, but an improvement. This thing is really designed for headphone listening.





Alternatively, if you're really serious you could splash out on a pair of these.


http://www.trustedreviews.com/...


or:


http://www.trustedreviews.com/...





These have an internal DAC and connect via USB. No sound card required, so your lousy onboard sound becomes immaterial.

PoisonJam

September 1, 2010, 3:00 am

I'm not sure I get the difference when my headphones and my speakers universally plug into my 3.5mm output on my PC...? Surely a 3.5mm to phono adapter is all that's needed?





I have been lusting after the MM1s for a while but I'm not sure I'm at my PC enough to justify the cost and I have a decent separates system.

Chris

September 1, 2010, 1:16 pm

@PoisonJam: A sound card is designed to either drive headphones directly or to work with external amplifiers, such as amplified PC speakers. This device is designed to drive headphones only. If you use it as you suggest it will work, but I wouldn't like to bet on whether it would be an improvement.

tiep

September 3, 2010, 9:23 pm

So, how much background hiss is there with a pair of sensitive IEMs like your favourite Shure SE530s? It is tough to find a headphone amp that does not hiss with very sensitive/low impedance phones...

DavidSpiteri

October 17, 2010, 4:34 pm

I have been using the E5 with the Cowon S9 for about 5 months and the sound is excellent. Recently I bought the Monster Pro Copper headphones and I am hearing a new sound dimension never heard before. I will be switching to E7 very shortly as I think that the sound reproduction this amplifier improves the sound.

DavidSpiteri

January 2, 2011, 7:33 pm

I received the E7 about two months ago. I compared it with the E5 and the E7 was more open on the low frequency side. The mid range and the High side improved. I recommand the E7 since it is capable of delivering very low frequency sound like a sub-woofer.

deafasapost

November 4, 2011, 8:46 pm

I have been using an E7 between my Macbook Pro and my AKG 72 headphones for a couple of months now and I really can not hear any difference when compared to plugging my phones directly into the Mac. I suspect this is because the Mac has a decent audio out already.

Marcus

July 25, 2013, 3:50 am

Do not buy this.

Search for "Fiio e5 stopped working" and you will see the fatal flaw with this product. It is fantastic, but when it stops working, there is no support, no replacement and no repair.

If you want great sound in the short term and want it on a budget then this product is great. If you want great sound that will last then look somewhere else. This technology sounds great, but is clearly designed to last no longer than the warranty. Thanks, China.

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