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FiiO QOGIR E09K – MONT BLANC E12

Desktop headphones amplifier/DAC and portable headphones amplifier review

FiiO E09k and E12

Introduction

Globalization has affected all sectors including high fidelity audio, thus making products designed and manufactured by companies in the Far East more easily accessible and available thereby creating higher competion within the market.

Concepts such as miniturization and portability have become common place, especially in the field of personal audio, a sector that for years has been growing exponentially both in terms of number of products available and today’s music consumption. If in the past users where not concerned about the size of their walkman when playing music outdoors with their headset, this is definitely no longer the case as size does matter! This being the case, in recent years we have witnessed a reversed trend of decreasing size of equipment with increased performance and functions. The need to provide both casual listeners and demanding headphone lovers with the ability to use their favorite headphones outdoors has prompted several manufacturers to market products that ensure listeners don’t miss their dedicated headphone system very much which normally overcomes the limitations of the most common portable digital audio players on both the D/A conversion and the headphones amplification circuits. Among these, a young Chinese company named FiiO founded in 2007, has begun to gain a reputation among fans and gradually has become one of the giants of the industry. FiiO sells a range of audio players and especially portable amplifiers for headphones that are interesting not only because of their size but mainly for their performance. FiiO’s design philosophy is based on four simple but basic concepts. The product sold must be practical, comfortable, creative and reliable. Therefore we’re going to test the portable headphone amplifier Mont Blanc E12 and the headphone amplifier / docking station QOGIR E09K.

Design

Front view

Front view

The Mont Blanc E12 and QOGIR E09K headphone amplifiers are fairly light, small and are characterized by an external chassis with a black metal finish. Of the two the Mont Blanc E12 is most suitable for portable use with features aimed at pure headphones amplification. In fact, it uses a combination of high performance op-amp such as the TIs OPA1611 and LME49600. The first op-amp has the function of an amplifier while the second one has the role of providing a current output. The E12 is also equipped internally with WIMA capacitors and an external volume control via an ALPS potentiometer. The power amplifier is supplied by the internal battery that can be recharged via the common USB socket. FiiO wanted to take particular care with the power supply section of this product. The integrated lithium polymer battery does in fact have great capacity and can provide a high output swing. The value of +11 Volts is generated by a row of three batteries, while the value of -11 Volts is supplied by the high performance DC / DC processing circuit. Therefore the total swing of the output voltage is no less than 22 Volts. A value that on the one hand can provide a performance at a certain level and on the other can ensure proper driving of high impedance headphones with an output power of up to 880 mW with a load of 32 Ohms.

In addition to the volume control on the front panel of the E12, there are also, an headphone input and a line input with 3.5 mm stereo jack connectors. On the left hand side of the amplifier we find the mini USB port used to charge the device using the PC, the iPad or mobile phone chargers as well as a switch that allows you to boost the gain on low frequencies. On the right hand side there is also a gain control used to adjust the volume depending on the type of headset and sources connected. There’s also a switch that allows you to activate the circuit that simulates crossfeed headphone listening as if it originated from a pair of speakers, thereby producing — according to FiiO — a more natural sound. However, the QOGIR E09K acts as both a docking station for FiiO E07K and E17 audio players as well as a headphone amplifier. Inside we can find the combination of TIs op-amp OPA2134 and TPA6120 which guarantee a good level of output power that drives headphones ranging from 16 to 600 Ohms. The front panel is equipped with a switch that lets you select the type of input ranging from AUX IN to DOCK IN, a 6.3 mm headphone jack and the ALPS potentiometer for the volume. On the rear panel there are the power outlet, a USB input and a gain selector which varies the level of output volume and finally the preamp outputs, line outputs and auxiliary input, all of which have RCA connectors.

Listening test

Back view

Back view

The listening tests, like all the previous ones were held in our small studio. The devices, according to the HDPhonic rules, are left burn-in for at least 48 hours prior to any evaluation and listening test. The DAC used for the test was the Violectric V800 that has been the reference D/A converter for all our tests for some time now. We selected native high resolution tracks with good dynamic range. First we tested the Mont Blanc E12 combined with a set of headphones ranging from Sennheiser HD-600 HD-650 HD-800 to Beyerdynamic DT 880 600 Ohm and finally AKG K99. From the first listen we noticed very good detail with a similar tone that we can define as being essentially neutral. The reconstruction of the sound stage is really good with a clear and precise placement of individual instruments within the virtual stage that is formed around the head of the listener. The articulation of transients is really good with almost all the headphones we tested. However, there was some congestion in more complicated sound passages especially with headphones that are more challenging to drive such as the Sennheiser flagship model and Beyerdynamic DT 880 that, from the top of its 600 Ohms, is always a benchmark test that is rather difficult for many headphone amplifiers. The HD-600 and HD-650 are much simpler to drive and have a good affinity with the Mont Blanc providing a worthy performance. However, the AKG K99 is the one that we enjoyed the most when coupling with the E12. The AKG low impedance has certainly contributed to this and the fact that, being a professional headset, it doesn’t require high power to express its potential.

By listening to our reference songs using these headphones we appreciated the transient speed, dynamics, detail and overall best affinity with the Mont Blanc we can clearly state that from among all the combinations tested, this is the one that we liked and that wowed us the most. The functions of bass boost and crossfeed can be considered as an added value, but aren’t decisive in the overall performance of the device. In fact, the first one colours in an all too obvious way the level of the low frequencies making listening almost exaggerated, especially with those tracks that have already emphasized this part of the sound spectrum. The crossfeed function, however, is a good attempt at simulating listening through speakers even if the best part of this game, in our opinion, is the total separation of the channels and the amplitude of the sound stage. Our listening test was followed by the E09K with the same songs used for the E12. When comparing the two devices we noticed that the E09K has a less decisive punch at low frequencies almost as if the sound had slightly less body. Something that occurred with all our headphones when matched with this amplifier. Compared to the E12 we also noticed a slight but more precise definition on mid-high frequencies and a lower precision in the highest part of the sound spectrum. To tell you the truth, we had almost the same impression when combining the E09K with K99. To be honest, the low-impedance headphones are the ones preferred by both amplifiers. Moreover, the E09K was born as a hybrid device that must cover the role of player / headphone amplifier, integrating less refined and more wide-ranging solutions when compared to the Mont Blanc E12 which was designed to meet the most demanding enthusiasts of portable personal audio.

Final thoughts

Left view

Left view

In the crowded world of personal audio, FiiO’s products are remarkable as regards size, price and performance. Throughout the duration of our tests we were able to confirm the conceptual and engineering design philosophy of this company that is aimed at being practical, convenient, creative and reliable with a compact, elegant design that represents an innovative solution for personal audio and the world of headphones. The musicality, clarity and depth that have emerged will definitely give audiophiles the quality they want to hear. To conclude, when buying the FiiO Mont Blanc E12 and E09K you will be purchasing valid products that will positively transform the way people listen to music outdoors.

Personal opinion

Right view

Right view

I have been pleasantly surprised by the progress made by portable headphone amps and in particular, the two FiiO products I liked the most was the E12 Mont Blanc combined with low impedance headphones like the AKG K99. Articulation, accuracy and clarity of the sound message make it a spot-on binomial. If the sonic behaviour of FiiO E09K is considered to be good, that of the E12 is really very good and doesn’t make you miss the use of a more expensive amplifier that much. Of course, for personal audio, we’re not talking about permanent solutions, but for the outlay required I can definitely recommend this purchase.

Score

FiiO Mont Blanc E12
  • Scoring110
  • Sound quality [1]8
  • Bang for the buck [2]10
  • Measures [3]8
  • Build quality [4]9
  • Versatility [5]8
  • Overall rating8
  1. 1. The sound quality is very good especially with high resolution tracks
  2. 2. The bang for the buck of the unit compared to the quality is really good
  3. 3. The measurements show a very good linearity on different parameters
  4. 4. Build quality and aesthetics are really good
  5. 5. Versatility is wide-ranging but limited to the duration of the battery
FiiO QOGIR E09K
  • Scoring110
  • Sound quality [1]7
  • Bang for the buck [2]9
  • Measures [3]7
  • Build quality [4]8
  • Versatility [5]8
  • Overall rating7
  1. 1. The sound quality is good especially with high resolution tracks
  2. 2. The bang for the buck of the unit compared to the quality is really good
  3. 3. The measurements show a very good linearity on different parameters
  4. 4. Build quality and aesthetics are really good
  5. 5. Versatility is wide ranging
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