It's hard to underestimate the role Fiio has played in the affordable hi-fi market. The release of its devices have become a highly awaited event for thousands of music lovers around the world. The E12, a portable headphone amplifier that went by the code name "Mont Blanc," is no exception.
The Fiio E12 is a portable headphone amplifier. It doesn’t have a DAC function like the E07 and E17, making it even better in its main function, sound quality. The amplifier is a combination of high-quality LME49710 and LME49600 operational amplifiers from Texas Instruments used to achieve a low distortion sound.
Portable amplifiers are mainly used to increase the volume of headphones. Apart from that, some of them are designed to improve the sound quality and be considered effective. Here, the device adds a lot of warmth to the recording and makes it a pleasure to listen to by providing good dynamics, good musicality, and lively and easy-to-understand music. This headphone amplifier has many qualities, but detail and soundstage are not high on the list; also, if your headphones’ sound signature is warm, combining them with FiiO E12 might spoil your enjoyment of the music.
FiiO E12 (Mont Blanc) Portable Headphone Amplifier Review
Amplifiers: LME49710 & LME49600 | Volume Control: ALPS Potentiometer | Output Power: 880 mW/32 Ohms | Recommended Headphones Impedance: 16 – 300 Ohms | Charging: 2.5 Hours | Battery: 12 Hours | Frequency Range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz | Signal-to-noise ratio: ≥ 110 dB | THD: <0.005% | Weight: 159g
The amplifier comes in a nice shiny box. Inside (besides the amplifier, of course), you will find a protective case made of thick black material, two rubber rings for attaching the amplifier to the player, a USB charging cable, a short connection cable with two 3.5 mm L-plugs, a mini-jack adapter, instructions and a set of different self-adhesive stamps to stick on the amplifier.
The case is made of thick material. This is very useful for carrying the amplifier and reduces the possibility of mechanical damage. The front of the case has been cut out to allow free access to the potentiometer knobs, headphone outputs, and line inputs.
FiiO paid attention to the content of this high-end headphone amplifier and the build quality. Unlike the Fiio E11, which has part of its chassis made of plastic, the Mont Blanc E12 is made of aluminum, giving it a high-end look. The sleek black aluminum is textured horizontally to create a material that is both stylish and functional. This texture makes the bulb feel good in your hands. The metal keeps your hands cool and adds authenticity to the design. The housing is all black, except for the logo at the top and the service information at the bottom.
The controls are kept to a minimum, with no screen and only two LEDs for display, operation, and ports; they are located on the front panel, with a blue LED indicating that the device is working and a red LED that the battery is low.
There is a bass boost button and a mini-USB port for charging the FiiO’s battery on the left. On the right side, there are two recessed toggles:
- Loop Through, which, when activated, allows the signal to bypass the amplifier, which is useful when the battery is low, and there is no way to recharge it.
- Crossfeed, which offers a better listening experience even for songs with a weak sound stage.
The bass boost is surprisingly good, with a simple 16dB bass boost. It makes up for what many headphones lack and doesn’t clutter up the mid and low frequencies. This is probably one of the best implementations of this feature.
This amplifier has two 3.5mm phone jacks on the front panel, connected to switches for input and output volume control. The volume control is analog and very compact. From an ergonomic point of view, this solution works perfectly. The relay prevents tapping on power-up, so switching from “off” to sound takes less than a second.
Beautiful on the outside, but you have to know that all the magic happens on the inside: The E12 is built with the best components: two OPAMPs, LME49710 and LME49600, WIMA capacitors, a high-performance bipolar power supply, and an ALPS potentiometer – the best of the best.
This powerful circuit board allows the amplifier to drive high-impedance headphones and charge a powerful low-current battery (5 volts) for up to 12 hours of playback and 3 hours of music playback. The chip also allows it to “adapt” to different charging currents, from a 450 mA USB port to a 2 A iPad charger. In the latter case, the charging time is only 3 hours.
When you listen to it, you’ll be surprised by the powerful, vibrant sound without feeling overpowered. For a portable headphone amp, FiiO E12 does great even with full-size hi-fi headphones like the Sennheiser HD650 or Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro; the apparent dynamics are similar to a desktop amp, at least in the low mids.
The E12 has excellent bass control, which packs a nice punch and can be refined as needed. Even when boosted using the switch on the left side of the unit, the bass is powerful and well-controlled, with convincing power and energy. It adds volume and weight but doesn’t change the substance. It’s not incredibly high-fidelity, but it’s definitely above mid-range and many high-end portable AMPs.
The midrange is quite full, dense, saturated, and even a bit dark, in the style of a good tube. On the other hand, the midrange is nicely detailed and does a great job with rhythm and pace, freedom and ease, and balances voices and instruments perfectly. As a result, the E12 Mont Blancs sound more direct, engaging, heavy, and detailed than when the source (in this case, a file player) is connected directly to the headphones. The difference is measurable and huge.
The highs are more varied and revealing while being cleaner and richer, and slower to descend, and faster to decay—dynamics that ensure high fidelity sound. The amp doesn’t jeopardize the audio spectrum by trying to create “airiness”; the Fiio E12 doesn’t feel like it’s spilling into the soundstage. The amp’s vibrant sound is its main selling point, so if you need a big stage, this amp may not be for you.
For under $200, the FiiO portable amplifier seems to have few weaknesses. You may complain about the lack of audiophile bass, that the highs are a bit dry, or that the mids are a bit dark, but I don’t think that’s fair. Since this amp does a great job as an amplifier, it just plays music. And it does that very well. Yes, a few details are missing, like the LCD screen or the implementation of the built-in DAC. Some of them are unnecessary, and if they were included, the device would be more expensive. However, the sound quality is much better than the E11.
Simply connect your audio source to the amplifier using the connection cable, plug the headphone jack into the FiiO, set up your music, and turn on the E12 amplifier. Please note that this amplifier model does not have a built-in DAC and, therefore, cannot be used as an audio interface for your computer.
A mini-jack to mini-jack cable is included, but there is no LOD (Line Out Dock) cable to connect the iPad/iPod’s PIN output to the amp’s mini-jack line-out input. We do consider the LOD cable to offer better sound quality and to be worth the investment.
For the price, this amplifier is probably unbeatable. The FiiO E12 Mont Blanc offers a beautiful finish, quality design, excellent power reserves, energetic delivery, and exceptional expertise in almost every genre that it plays. The durable black anodized chassis look is impressive, while the rich, crisp sound enhances your music with beautiful stereo tones and controlled bass.
Even though you’re best off using this portable headphone amplifier with a pair of high-quality in-ear monitors, Fiio E12 is a strong solution for plenty of other headphones types; it can even keep up with the likes of Sennheiser HD 800 S, Sennheiser HD 660 S, Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro, Meze Audio 99 Classics, HIFIMAN SUNDARA.