The FiiO E18 Kunlun is a compact device that combines a DAC, a headphone amplifier, an external PC sound card and a smartphone power bank. The main purpose of this device is to act as a DAC in an Android smartphone. All in all, for music lovers who like to listen to music on the go, the E18 has all the features to make you fall in love with this device, unless there are internal problems or the sound quality/power reserve is not good enough.
FiiO E18 Kunlun Portable Headphone DAC/Amp Review
Output power: 300mW/32 Ohms | Supported USB audio sampling rate: 32 kHz/44.1 kHz/48 kHz/96 kHz @ 16/24bit | Total harmonic distortion: 0.005% @ 1KHz/32 Ohms | Signal to noise ratio: 106dB (weighted) | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20 kHz (+/- 0,2dB) | Headphone impedance (recommended): 16 – 150 Ohms | Battery life: 3500mAh – 25 hours (AMP), 12 hours (DAC+AMP) | Dimensions: 130 x 66.2 x 14.6 mm | Weight: 162g | Warranty: 24 months | List of compatible smartphones (as of February 2014): Samsung Galaxy S3 / S4, Note 2, Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, Galaxy Note 8.0 HTC: One, One X Sony: Xperia SL, Xperia Z Xperia Z1
The white box made of thick cardboard with a photo of the device has become familiar over the past few years. At one end is a sticker with a code confirming the originality of the product.
This package comes with everything you could want. The amplifier itself takes the central place in the package, which also includes the following accessories.
- Fabric carrying case with velcro closure
- 4 rubber rings to attach the E18 to normal and large smartphones
- 6 rubber feet with adhesive to protect the E18 from scratches when used on a table
- Short audio cable with two 3.5 mm plugs
- S/PDIF adapter cable
- Cable to connect your smartphone via USB OTG
- Cable kit to connect the E18 to your computer
- User’s manual
As is usually the case with FiiO, the accessories are quite numerous.
The appearance of the E18 is a departure from the tradition established by the E07 and E17. This new portable DAC looks like the E12 amplifier. The E18 has a textured aluminum finish, and its low-profile chassis is comparable in size to an iPhone 5S smartphone, which is a lot when your main smartphone’s size is similar to iPhone 8. Still, this DAC looks downright fancy in the context of the latest Android smartphones.
The increase in size is largely due to a high-capacity 3500mAh battery, which gives the E18 12 hours of battery life in DAC+Amp mode and 25 hours in Amp only mode.
Fiio has made great progress in build quality over the years, and the E18 is no exception. Gold-plated connectors are at the heart of the unit. Switches and controls are properly fixed and work well to prevent accidental activation.
Unlike the E17, the FiiO E18 amplifier has no display; four small LEDs are used for indication: three indicate the charge level of the built-in 3500 mAh lithium-ion battery, and the last LED serves as a power indicator.
Three buttons on the side allow you to control the player with a smartphone or a connected computer. The volume control comes in the form of a ridged roller that also acts as a switch. Next to it is a bass boost switch and a Gain switch.
At one end is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a universal mini-jack connector, which serves as a line out when USB is connected (DAC mode), or as an input otherwise. The output signal is very good, clean, dynamic, clear, neutral, and very well balanced.
On the bottom of the device are a coaxial output and two micro USB ports: one port is for charging the E18 with an optional adapter (DC 5V/2A); the second port can be used to stream audio from a smartphone or computer; and the third is a USB port that can be used to connect the E18 to a USB port. It supports resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz.
The second USB port can also be used to charge your phone’s battery. In this case, the E18 acts as a power bank. An independent switch selects the USB mode (3 positions: PC IN, PHONE IN, and CHG OUT).
The high-quality stereo output of the E18 can greatly enhance the sound of Android smartphones and computers, portable players, and other gadgets.
The following integrated circuits are used in the model: TE7022 (controller for USB), Burr Brown PCM1798 DAC, OPA1642, 2 pcs. LMH6643.
Tenor’s TE7022 chip was used as the USB controller to ensure compatibility with the Android E18 device. The DAC supports signals up to 32bit/192kHz, but the E18 only supports up to 24bit/96kHz due to the limitations of the TE7022. When connected to Android, the amplifier is even more limited by the capabilities of that operating system, and in most cases, the DAC will operate in 16bit/44.1kHz mode.
Since the E18 is limited to 24/96, it does not need, unlike the X5, any additional drivers to function as a DAC when plugged into a computer.
The FiiO E18 Kunlun offers a range of connectivity options, including decoding digital files, receiving and amplifying analog signals, and sending digital signals to receivers and other devices (an adapter is included that allows you to use a regular cable with RCA plugs).
Please note that before purchasing the FiiO E18 portable amplifier, it is recommended to check the compatibility list on the manufacturer’s website, as some older Android smartphones cannot send signals to the micro USB port and may not be compatible.
The features of the E18 qualify this product as a versatile device. It has several connectivity options and works effectively with various Android devices, making it suitable for users who are looking for a portable amplifier to listen to music. However, it will not work with the latest Android or iOS devices without an adapter.
Like most Ti chip DACs, the E18 has a slightly warmer, bass-heavy sound with stronger mids. This results in a confident, energetic sound that is suitable for most musical genres. On the flip side, you lose some air and lightness in the highs. We think this is a fair trade-off, but it’s a matter of personal preference and priorities. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worth it. In short, if you listen to Pop, Rock, Trap music, and the kinds, E18 will fit you well.
The sound of the E18 is significantly different from anything FiiO has developed in-house. It is mostly warm and digital, and the soundstage is close and direct. The Kunlun is similar to the E12, but sonically they have nothing in common.
The FiiO E18 does well with most headphones – it’s a pretty versatile device. Bass is generally accurate, fast and precise, and very well controlled. Treble sometimes seems more pronounced than in other headphones.
The bass is well arranged and integrates nicely into the midrange, resulting in a smooth and even overall sound. With the boost, the entire bass range (from the lowest to the highest) is enhanced with a louder, more articulate, heavier, and longer decay.
The mids are similar to those of the X5 but are not particularly expressive. They have a musicality and thickness that makes them just as appealing as the bass.
The highs don’t shine, but they soften nicely and remain happily present, matching the profile’s very precise and controlled warmth. I find that it matches very well with headphones with bright characteristics.
The soundstage is pleasantly wide and shows off the stereo depth nicely; it’s definitely more open and spacious than the E17. The sound is well separated and moderately layered. Individual instruments appear close but do not overlap or clump together.
The E18 is a worthy successor to the FiiO E17. The manufacturer has taken a different direction, something quite appealing to me. Although I have no complaints in principle, I sometimes thought that the soundstage of this amplifier could be a bit richer and airier. Nevertheless, the E18 is a very practical device that will prove useful in many applications, provided it’s compatible with your device since it’s mainly friendlier to Android devices in the 2012-2016 era.
Overall, it’s an excellent combination of pocket amplifier, DAC, and external power bank. Satisfactory sound quality and an affordable price make this device a real favorite for those who are looking for a way to take sound quality to the next level but are not yet ready to spend a fortune.
The DAC+AMP feature is interesting, but the biggest problem is that the E18 is an outdated product. Newer Android smartphones will need an adapter or USB Type-C to MicroUSB OTG cable, whereas Apple users are looking for an alternative to the FiiO E18 because it doesn’t work with their devices (you can either get a FiiO E12 or go on a much rougher path if you have an old iPhone.