Fiio E5 Headphone Amplifier Review

This isn’t my Cowon S9 32GB review. You’ve probably noticed that from the title. It was meant to be though. I just haven’t finished that yet. Along the way though I picked up Fiio’s wonderful little E5 headphone amplifier and I thought I’d post this mini review to tell you all about it.

But first, why on earth would you need an amplifier for your MP31 player?

There are several reasons. Firstly the headphone amp in many personal music players is cheap, nasty and the last thing on the mind of the designers of what might be otherwise an excellent quality PMP. Some lack power, meaning that even on small headphones you have to crank up the volume to hear in a noisy location but the result is distorted sound. Also small rechargeable personal music players – even the very good ones – aren’t designed to be able to power massive audiophile headphones with an impedance of 300ohms.

This is where a headphone amp comes in. It will boost the signal from your PMP so you can listen with the volume set lower meaning less distortion or use your 300ohm fancy uber-headphones. Often third-party headphones will also add there own special something to the sound as it passes through it.

The Fiio E5 is such a device.

As you can see from the photos it’s a tiny little thing, about the size of an iPod Shuffle. In fact the design seems somewhat, how shall we say, influenced by the baby iPod.

The case is made of metal and there’s strongly sprung clip on the back should you wish to use it on the move. At one end of the E5 is the 3.5mm headphone in and a USB-in for charging. The other end has the 3.5mm headphone out socket, volume control, on/off button LED status indicator and bass boost switch.

Using the E5 is simplicity itself. The amplifier charges pretty quickly via USB and a full charge will last your some 20 hours of listening time. The amp comes with a USB charging cable – but any regular mini-USB cable will do. It also comes with two 3.5mm connection leads. One of these is very short, just a few inches, for when you might as well keep the amp next to the PMP itself. Then there’s a longer cable so you could stick the music player in your pocket, control the volume on the amp with a clip on you jacket and the headphones would reach your ears easily. Again these cables are just regular 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male so any third party cable of that type would do.

A quick press of the on/off button gives us a blue LED status light and we’re ready to go. Connect one end to your PMP the other to your headphones and then get on with it. You’ll find you don’t have to have your music player as loud and can then set the volume with the amp. Alternatively you may choose to leave the amp at a set volume and use the PMP to adjust loudness. Either way is fine if you’re searching for the best sound for your music player.

The E5 does not pass the sound through cleanly, but that is actually one of its strengths. It adds a little warmth and richness to the sound while tightening up the bass. If you’ve got a player with relatively poor sound quality such as an iPod2 then the E5 really will make a difference for you. Even for those with a PMP good sound quality such as a Walkman, Cowon or iRiver device – the added touch of warmth is still very welcome. It’s subtle yet at the same time makes a real difference. There’s a small toggle switch on the amp to boost the bass further and it does so without making the bass too fat.

Over the last few days I’ve tried the E5 with a Cowon S9 32GB, Creative Zen 32GB, iRiver Clix 2 4GB, iPod Touch 16GB music players and a Nokia N96 mobile phone. The Cowon is one of the best sounding music players around but the E5 still sprinkles a little magic into the mix and of course is needed if you want to drive bigger headphones. On players with poorer quality sound it makes a welcome difference – the iPod Touch really benefited from the E5’s tighter bass, stereo clarity and warmer overall tone. While the Fiio E5 can’t make the poorest quality player sound like one of the best it can make the listening experience much more enjoyable and less fatiguing. I highly recommend it.

I paid £12 for my Fiio E5 which given the quality of the sound it delivers is a real bargain. In a market saturated with snake-oil audio solutions such as wooden volume controls and £200 cables it’s wonderful to find a small inexpensive device that makes a genuine difference to your listening experience.

You can buy the Fiio E5 headphone amplifier right here from Amazon.

1I say MP3, but there’s no reason to keep using this crappy old format if you don’t have to. If your player supports file types such as WMA, FLAC, OGG or ACC use those instead – you’ll get more efficient compression of your files and better sound.
2Don’t you like music or something?