FiiO is fast becoming a big industry player in audiophile consumer products. The company was highlighted at CanJam 2019 with some exciting new IEM releases. One of FiiO’s more popular products is the FiiO E10K, an affordable USB DAC and headphone amplifier. While our focus is on the E10K, we’ll also briefly examine the FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier later in this article.
FiiO E10K Specs
Power supply: Micro USB
Output Power: 200mW @ 32 ohms
Inputs: Micro USB
Outputs: ⅛-inch AUX, coaxial, ⅛-inch headphone
Design & Features
The first thing you’ll notice about the FiiO E10K is its small size. If you’re familiar with the Schitt Fulla, the E10K is probably around two-thirds the size. Palm-sized, to be more precise. The outer casing is a solid piece of brushed aluminum with a headphone jack and controls on one end with USB input and outputs on the other.
The headphone output is a 1/8-inch jack plug with a large recess around the outside. If you are familiar with the original FiiO E10, you’ll know that some headphone jacks could not fit due to the tight recess around the headphone output. This issue is not sorted, and all headphones should now fit.
Next to the headphone output is the E10K bass boost. It’s a feature some audiophiles had a total meltdown about. Many purists feel bass boost features should not be included in DACs and headphone amps. The E10K was not built for the audiophile market but as a fun product for the average consumer.
The rotary volume control is located next to the bass boost and operates as a power switch. The knob goes from 0 – 8 with an extra click past zero for off. The action of the control is smooth with a nice weight when turned. Something not often found on cheaper electronics products.
Another change from the original E10 to the E10K is the hi/low gain switch. On the E10, the gain attenuation was located on the bottom of the device, while on the E10K, this switch is located on the rear next to the inputs and outputs.
Inputs and Outputs
Nothing has changed regarding inputs and outputs from the E10 to the E10K except for the type of USB input. The E10 FiiO used a Mini USB, whereas on the E10K, it’s now a Micro USB input. This won’t have any effect on how the product operates. However, some users might prefer one connection over the other. The device also draws power through the USB connection from your laptop or PC.
Next to the Micro USB input is a coaxial and 1/8-inch output. The rear outputs are not variable, so you can’t use the E10K as a preamp. However, you can feed the DAC into a preamp if needed.
The headphone output on the front is recommended for headphones from 16 – 150 ohms—mostly the entry-level and standard headphone models. You can drive high-impedance headphones, but you won’t achieve optimum performance from the E10K.
If you’ve used similar DACs, the first thing you’ll notice from the E10K is a slight bump in bass response. This likely has something to do with the bass boost switch. Even when the bass boost is disengaged, the E10K is somewhat bassy.
One issue with the E10 was the bass boost, which seemed to affect frequencies in the midrange. This was very overwhelming and muddied the audio to some extent. FiiO has fixed that with the E10K. The bass boost is now reserved for the subfrequencies. The bass boost is, however, quite powerful and might be too much for action games and movies. If you have a bass boost feature on your headphones, the E10K may provide a smoother, more powerful listening experience.
The mid-range and treble are what you would expect from a DAC under $100. While the sound is clean, there is some frequency loss in the midrange, and the E10K certainly doesn’t provide a premium listening experience. For $76, the E10K does a fantastic job.
If you’re looking for an affordable DAC for gaming or listening to music from your laptop or PC, then the FiiO E10K is an excellent option. If you’re looking to boost the bass of your headphones, then the E10K is probably one of the few DACs with a bass boost feature. Where the E10K is most useful is portability. Its compact size means you can pop it in your laptop bag and enjoy the benefits of a DAC no matter where you are.
FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier
If you’re looking for an even smaller, more affordable DAC, the FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier is the E10K’s younger sibling. The A3 provides many of the same features as the E10K, except it doesn’t have a coaxial output and is better suited as an on-the-go-DAC. The A3 is slimline with a 16-hour built-in battery. Connecting your iPad, laptop, or mobile while traveling is useful.
Like the E10K, the A3 powers headphones from 16-150 ohms, which is perfect for most consumer headphones but isn’t sufficient to power high-end models. The A3 also has the same gain attenuation and bass boost features. The volume/power knob is also identical to the smooth action you get from the E10K.
The best part about the A3 is the price tag. You also have three color options: black, silver, and titanium.