The first thing the new headphone FiiO E12 Headphone amplifier ‘Mont Blanc’ AKA E12 does is impress just with its styling and shape. It is as oblong as it is solid, as it is black, as it is er.. rectangular. The size and shape of the FiiO E12 Headphone Amplifier is perfectly suited to lie against an iPod for instance, to form a nice regular pocketable rig. For me however, the temptation to grab a disused femur and bash the head of a hapless colleague is great indeed. It’s just so black. And oblongtangular.
I eventually shook off my atavistic tendencies; and using logic and reason I connected it to a USB socket for a good charge. The light pulsated slowly while this went on, and remained steady once the E12 was full. The E12 is not a DAC like the E07k or E17, it just amplifies.
The E12 is suitable for IEMs as well as full sized headphones, as there is a gain switch offering an extra 16dB should they be needed. The E12 is listed as being compatible with headphones up to 300 Ohms, but I thought I’d try my good old AKG K240DFs which come in at 600. The K240s were brought up to a good volume, and the bass boost switch on the E12 came in handy with them as they’re a bit bass-light. I’d say they could be driven better, but I could be using an amp which was designed for them so no surpise there. The HE-400 was always only just at an acceptably loud level with the E7, but with the E12 I can turn it up further should I need to.
The bass boost switch can be set to ‘off’ or ‘on’ only, there are no incremental steps. It sounds equivalent to a level ‘3’ setting on the E7’s bass boost, as the effect is large. Whether it improves the sound depends on what music is playing, for me; and how it is produced. Some forms of music can end up sounding a bit boomy and woolly, others are improved no end. I would say that in the former case, bass boost is superfluous anyway.
I tried the crossfeed feature with interest, as there are certain tracks which cannot easily be listened to on headphones. Mainly those early stereo mixes which are still experimental and intended for loudspeakers only, with for instance drums panned hard left, and perhaps rhythm guitar panned hard right. This makes my ears want to do back flips ordinarily, but the crossfeed feature really makes these tracks listenable again. In the past I’ve had to put the signal through a mixing desk and play with the panning, but this does it for me; and very well too. It need hardly be said that its effect on normal stereo mixes is detrimental indeed, so use crossfeed only when required.
The volume is controlled by a small pot on end of the E12, and is stiff enough not to deafen anyone with a nervous twitch. There’s little chance of it being moved by accident, and has a satisfyingly weighty feel to it.
I tried the E12 with my HE-400 full sized headphones and also the Phonak Audeo PFE112. The versatility of the E12 is one of its strengths, but great attention is required if switching from full-size to IEM and back again. It’s a good idea to check the gain control and volume religiously before switching on as there’s nothing to prevent the equipment and eardrums of the careless being damaged!
I think though that Fiio should take more care of their quality control as this appears to be coated in some sort of adhesive. It’s stuck to my hand, and I’m not sure if I can dislodge it before the weekend. I might have to take it home, and that would be dreadful.