Customer Review

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does the job., 12 Feb. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was unaware of this product until a review in a current edition of a hi-fi magazine aroused my interest.

Hi-fi enthusiasts have for a long time known of the impact and the significant sound improvements outboard DAC's can have in hi-fi systems. It is also known that the inside environment of a computer is not conducive to top quality music reproduction, even if the audio file is uncompressed. DAC's inside computers are built down to a price, not up to a quality, and for the most part and for the majority of users, this isn't an issue as their music files are compressed and they are content with the sound.

However, even with compressed audio files, higher quality sound reproduction is possible by bypassing the inbuilt DAC of the pc and using an outboard (external) DAC whose electronics, usually of better quality, are not affected anywhere near as much by stray interference from the computers own internal electronics. And this is the raison d'etre of this device.

Out of the box, connection and set up is reasonably straightforward, although you do need to be a little computer savvy to set up your pc to recognise the device and use it in place of the usual headphone output or inbuilt speakers. It is not an automatic plug and play device. Even I got caught out as having completed all the settings and getting test tones through my headphones, there was no sound output when I fired up Windows media player. I checked and double checked the settings, and still no joy. A reboot solved the problem and it worked.

The device is unusual in that it has a dual function: as a DAC for connection via USB, and as a portable headphone amplifier to be used with a music player, be it via 3.5mm jack or Apple type connector.

It should be stressed that this device is primarily intended for headphone use, but there should be no reason why external active speakers designed to accept the headphone output of audio devices should not work.

Tested firstly as a DAC, and with a pair of reasonable, but not expensive AKG K416P on-the-ear closed back design headphones, the sound of my mp3 and wma audio files was cleaner all round. The AKG's can sometimes overwhelm with bass output if not partnered with compatible gear, but through this DAC the bass was more clearly defined and I noticed the treble response was not quite as brittle and the overall result was a much smoother response throughout the audio range. My audio files, in the main part classical music, range from 160 kps to 320 kps and whilst it would be expected that the DAC works best with least compression, even the 160 kps files were improved some. All testing was carried out with no bass equalisation.

So, it works very well as a DAC, and so what is the advantage of also being a headphone amp when your portable device already has a headphone out? Well, apart from the fact it can power two sets of headphones, only really useful if the phones themselves have individual volume controls which enables the listeners to adjust volume most comfortable for them, it does mean that higher quality phones, which can be less sensitive, can be powered with ease.

As supplied, the unit comes with a neoprene type body shell and a good soft case which will accommodate the unit in its neoprene body shell, a rubber strap that is intended to hold your player and this unit together, and a USB cable. The unit charges from the pc's USB port, so if your pc has an unswitched USB port, so much the better.

The only omission from the supplied accessories is a magnifying glass, which you may find you need as the printed instruction leaflet is in such tiny print it is difficult to read if you have less than perfect vision.

As for the unit itself, I can't praise it enough and for a very modest outlay it can improve the sound of your digital music files noticeably. It seems to be very well built and visually looks the part i.e not cheap. Recommended.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jul 2011 21:29:14 BDT
Mr. D. Young says:
I believe the main purpose of using the device as a headphone amplifier with an MP3 player is actually very similar to that of it being used with a computer. If you buy one of the compatible line-out cables for iPod or MP3 players then the sound is taken straight out of the iPod from the charging socket, at a higher quality than through the headphone-out socket. The FiiO then acts as a DAC for the files on the iPod, thus meaning that sound quality and output volume of, say, an iPod, are both significantly improved by using the E7 as a headphone amp with an iPod (or similar MP3 player). Needless to say, the difference would be much more noticable if one were using lossless FLAC/ALAC files instead of compressed MP3s or WAVs - the simplest way to improve sound quality on any digital device, e.g. ripping CDs as FLACs or ALACs.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jul 2011 22:11:20 BDT
T.J.Byford says:
Mr. Young, a slight correction if I may. I don't own any Apple based music player, unless you count my iMac, and I am one of the myriad of people who don't own an iPhone, but I am sure you are right in your comments, but only as far as an Apple product is concerned, because a simple glance will show that an Apple socket is far more versatile than a standard 3.5mm jack which on an mp3 player is simply a line only analogue audio output. So it should be an easy matter to connect, say, an ipod to the FiiO and perhaps enjoy a direct digital feed from the player. If this is so, this is a significant advantage enjoyed by Apple music players (providing they are all equipped with the standard Apple socket, when using the FiiO to feed headphones) as you can still use it as a DAC.

This is, of course, not an option available to any mp3 player whose output is via its headphone jack, which runs at line analogue only for headphone use. There is no digital signal on this jack output. Thus the FiiO operates purely as a power booster in these circumstances and is, of course, now entirely dependant upon the quality of the player's own output amp. So your comments about ripping in the best quality possible hit the mark entirely.

I did consider whether there was a digital signal output on the mini USB connector when playing back via an mp3 player, but then discounted this as an option as the signal would already have been processed by the player's DAC and there would appear to no way to override this, as there is when the FiiO is to be used in place of the pc's DAC.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2012 16:32:52 GMT
PD says:
so this amp will do nothing to improve the sound quality from an mp3 player?

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2012 19:15:03 GMT
T.J.Byford says:
PD, as it takes the analogue feed, ie. headphone output from an mp3 player, all it can do in this situation is amplify this. It doesn't do anything to improve the sound, although being an analogue amp it may make it sound "different". It is only when connected to an Apple product or you PC's USB socket when it then performs as a DAC, has it the potential to offer superior sound.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2012 14:31:31 GMT
PD says:
Thanks for such a quick reply and info about the amp i was going to buy this mainly to use with an mp3 player.
I have got westone 3 earphones that i bought a few months ago and to be honest i thought they were as simple to use as the cheap ones are(just plug in and listen).I got some advice about using an amp to drive the earphones and make them worth while but i guess i still can with an amp connected to my laptop

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2012 15:08:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 23 Jan 2012 15:12:28 GMT
T.J.Byford says:
PD, the Westone 3 earphones are an unknown quantity for me.

Although the FiiO will only offer superior sound reproduction when connected to a pc via USB, and you set the device to act as a DAC in lieu of the pc's own DAC, one advantage of it being an analogue amplifier is it will enable you to use headphones of low sensitivity as it has the power to power them, unlike the power output of mp3 players that are designed more for earphones. As I mentioned in my review, at home I like to use hi-fi headphones of varying sensitivities and which some of my smaller mp3 players simply can not drive. This is where the FiiO comes in very handy.

I have been considering your last comment about connecting an amp to your laptop. I do something similar in that I have a pair of Creative Active speakers driven from the headphone out socket, and I suppose you could do the same by feeding the headphone output from the laptop to an external amp and connecting earphones to this. Now if what I am about to say is teaching you to suck eggs, please bear with me. Unless your proposed amp has a bespoke headphone socket, which will be fine, you simply can't connect a pair of headphones across the output of amplifiers. Headphones are very sensitive, too sensitive to be connected straight to an amplifier and if you try amplifier noise will be such an issue you won't be able to listen.

The other point about connecting an amp to your laptop, and if you use the headphone socket, is we get back to the real reason for the existence of devices like the FiiO. If you simply connect the amp via the laptop's headphone socket, you will get analogue sound processed by the computer's built in DAC. But this doesn't make much sense, especially if you are going to listen via headphones.

It is true, that whilst being used with a normal mp3 player you can't access higher quality, it is when you connect the FiiO to a USB socket that you access its superior DAC performance. So plugging your headphones into it in this set-up you will notice a difference. And, what's more, if instead, you were to take the headphone out of the FiiO, when it is connected as a DAC, to an external amp or active speakers, this will give better sound than the headphone output from the laptop. Am I making sense?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2012 15:55:10 GMT
PD says:
Ok lets see if i have got this, plug the amp into the usb socket on the laptop and then plug the earphones into the amp if it has the bespoke headphone socket and that will improve sound quality?
have fiio amps got this headphone socket?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2012 18:18:32 GMT
T.J.Byford says:
PD, not quite. USB sockets output digital data streams, not analogue, which you need to listen to music, so you can't connect a conventional analogue amp to a USB socket.

As you know, your mp3 music file is digital data, so to be able to hear it, it needs to be converted to an analogue signal. Your laptop has an inbuilt DAC to do this, and it outputs its converted analogue signal via the 3.5mm headphone socket.

DAC's in computers tend to be basic and can be affected by extraneous electronic signals found in pc's. So, just as in hi-fi audio, external DAC's can provide better digital to analogue conversion and hence, better audio sound.

Fortunately, the computer's digital data at the USB socket can be accessed by an appropriate external DAC (Digital to Audio Converter) such as the FiiO. This digital signal is available only on the USB socket and is why the FiiO has to be connected to it this way to make use of its high quality digital conversion.

Perhaps, and what may at first be confusing, is that quite separately, the FiiO can be connected to a computer's headphone socket, or more practically, to an mp3 player. But in this mode, it behaves only as an audio booster to the player's analogue signal so you may be able to listen to difficult-to-drive headphones, but not necessarily better audio quality, unless you happen to like what the FiiO makes of your mp3 player's audio signal.

If you don't feel a need to buy a FiiO, or similar device, and all you want to do is listen via earphones, you may as well just simply plug them into the headphone out socket on the laptop. Unless your earphones can't be driven by the laptop's 3.5mm analogue output, I don't see what advantage plugging an amp, or even a FiiO, into the pc's headphone socket and then connecting the earphones to the amp will give you. With an mp3 player, though, it can make sense.
Let's go over your connection options.

Set up 1.
Connect the FiiO to the USB socket on your laptop. This connection will allow you to bypass the inferior DAC of the laptop and use the superior DAC of the FiiO. The FiiO has a standard 3.5mm headphone out socket and so you connect your earphones/headphones to this. The FiiO channels all its audio out signals through this one standard socket, irrespective of the play mode you use.

To access the DAC function, though, you will need to go into your laptop audio settings and set the sound card to default to the FiiO. You connect the FiiO first, and then when you go into your sound card's settings you should see the FiiO as an icon. You check this and confirm. Your sound card now knows to output its digital signal straight to the FiiO and bypass its own internal DAC.

Set up 2.
Having set up the FiiO as a DAC, as above, instead of plugging in headphones to it, you can take a feed from its headphone socket to an audio amplifier and listen to your laptop through speakers connected to the amp. In this setup, the FiiO is behaving in exactly the same fashion as hi-fi external DAC's to convert a digital signal into a high quality analogue signal that can feed a hi-fi amp, or a headphone amplifier. Now, with this set up, should your amp have a headphone out socket, you can plug phones into this and enjoy the higher quality that the FiiO gives from its DAC.

Set up 3 with a standard mp3 player. (Not an Apple product)
The only function the FiiO has here, is to boost the headphone output of the player. It does not act as a DAC, so the replay quality is largely dependent upon the player. You connect it to your player's headphone socket and your headphones to the output socket of the FiiO.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2012 19:37:38 GMT
PD says:
You have been very helpful i will certainly think over everything you have told me while deciding what to do.
Thank you for your time taken to explain all this to me your advice is much appreciated

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jan 2012 15:42:38 GMT
PD says:
T.J. Byford, you were right about the connection to an mp3 player that you described in your last comment.I decided to try the fiio e7 and it arrived today, i used the line they give you with it to connect the fiio to my mp3 player and i found no difference in sound quality using this method.However i discovered that my mp3 player the sony walkman s765 can be connected to the fiio in a similar way that apple products are connected using the fiio L5 line out dock cable for sony walkman mp3 player

Your 320kps files, are they lossless music files?
I am asking because when i ripped my CD,s i could not go any higher than 192kps
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