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Big thanks to the folks at FiiO for sending me this demo unit, which is their newest iteration, the E10K Olympus 2. I am not being compensated by FiiO for this review in any way. I’m simply giving my impressions of the Amp/DAC. Read on to find out what I thought!
2,493 word post, approx. 5-6 min read.
6/29/19.Added Shootout with A3 & Q1 MK II
5 reasons you should consider purchasing an E10K.
It has an excellent build, especially for a unit under $100.
It’s got a lot of power for such a small unit; 200mW into 32 Ohms. It can power my HD600/650 pretty well even without the gain switch on.
It’s versatile, with a gain switch, bass boost, micro USB, Coax, and even a Line Out. You can use it as a DAC into another amp, a converter (more on that in a bit), or as a dedicated desktop Amp/DAC.
It will improve the sound of your headphones immensely if you’re used to bad digital to analog converters. What is a USB DAC?
It’s price to performance ratio is phenomenal.
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the FiiO E10K USB DAC Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
In the world of Amps and DACs, Amp/DAC combos, separate amps, separate DACs, and all of the options available, one thing becomes clear if you’re new to the hobby:
Wow. That was an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.
It’s true though: companies, people, bloggers, reviewers, and the whole slew of the information age has actually contributed to humans being more lost than when they started!
There’s simply too much to choose from nowadays. Buy this, not that! My amp delivers optimal sound quality! That one is OK, but mine is the ultimate! If you live in America, there is an over abundance of EVERYTHING, yet people are as depressed as ever.
I promise this wasn’t intended to get philosophical, but bear with me.
There’s an over abundance of Food. Lysol spray. Laundry Detergent. Coffee. Smart phones. Laptops. Hand soap. Deodorant. Toilet Bowl Cleaner. You get the idea.
It’s like when Bubba explains Shrimp to Forrest at 1:17. Haha.
I legit have 15 cans of Lysol in my apartment simply because I can (Haha. No pun intended). It may sound ridiculous, but guess what? It is. I’ll never have to buy another can of Lysol ever again though! Don’t ask me why I did that. I was having a weird day in 2015 while Christmas shopping. Now it’s years later. And I still have Lysol. Ok I’m done.
With all that said, there is also an over abundance of Amps.
Big amps, small amps, versatile amps, USB amps, non-USB amps, Amps that sing you a lullaby. Amps that don’t. Amps that come with a side of fries. Amps that don’t lie. Amps that brew you a cup of coffee. Amps with Toffee. Wow. It’s like lick-able wallpaper.
The snozberries taste like snozberries!
It’s just too much.
If you’re a newcomer to the hobby, or a budding audiophile, it can be hard to decide which amp to buy.
Fortunately for you, I’m here. My main job is to sift through the madness and find out what’s good and what’s not. What can be held on to and what can be discarded. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t claim to have the most experience. But I have a lot of experience with various equipment, and I know what sounds good and what doesn’t.
The Build of the E10K is exceptional for an Amp/DAC in this price range or otherwise. Holding it in your hand feels solid, and I even dropped it on a hardwood floor by accident!
The brushed aluminum chassis held up remarkably well, and I was able to resume music listening in a snap without freaking out and having to pay FiiO for a broken amp. 😛
In addition to that, the volume knob, bass boost switch, gain switch, and headphone jack all feel very rugged. The volume knob in particular has a satisfying click when you turn it on for power.
All inputs are of a high quality here.
The only minor concern was the micro USB jack. It feels a bit Piggly Wiggly at times, or jiggly. Like Jigglypuff. Thankfully there’s no effect on sound and I’m not finding it cutting out or anything. Still something to keep in mind.
It provides a gain switch and bass boost, both of which come in handy.
The gain switch is great for more power hungry headphones like an HD600 or 650, while the bass boost adds some oomph if you desire a bit more low end.
Both do their respective jobs in a very tasteful way.
For instance, I have the HD650 plugged in to the E10K at the moment. Without the gain switch or bass boost, volume reaches an acceptable listening level at max volume (8), and sounds very pleasant. I don’t feel the need to turn it up anymore, but I desire to because I like to live life on the edge. Lol. Not really. I’m just a writer man.
With the gain switch on, I like the volume between 5-6. It provides just the right amount of extra zest. I do not, and should not push it to 8. We like to live life on the edge, but in moderation. This isn’t a metal show, friend.
With the bass boost on, you can push it a bit more. The extra emphasis tames the mids/treble a bit to where you can comfortably dial it to about 6-7.
Loveeeeeee that gain switch!
A lot of this will depend on the song, how well it’s mixed/mastered, the quality of the file itself, etc. But those figures above are about right and provide a nice range of what you can expect with something like an HD600/650.
People may scoff at this pairing, but that’s because they are lame and probably have never even tried it. A lot of folks claim that the E10K can’t drive either of these, but they’re lying and probably never even tested it out first hand. Lieven at Headfonia wrote in his FiiO E10K: A Classic Reborn:
“It’s suitable for 16-150Ohm headphones but it can actually even handle the 300Ohm Sennheiser HD650. Of course don’t expect spectacular sound but with the Bass Boost on, it’s quite fun to listen to.”
The E10K is also very versatile as well. Let’s take a look at some of it’s other uses.
You can use it as a standalone DAC using the line output, as a USB headphone Amp, and also as a USB to coax converter.
With the Objective 2
Basically, I can use a separate Amp like the JDS Labs 02 with the E10K. I would take a 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect cable such as this one, and plug it into the line out on the back of the E10K. The other end plugs into the front of the Objective 2 and voila! It’s a stand alone DAC.
With the Magni 2 or 3
I can also use the E10K as a DAC and hook it up to my Magni 2 or 3. You would simply use an RCA to mini cable such as this one. Plug the 3.5mm cable into the E10K like before, and plug the RCA males into the back of the Magni.
As a Converter
Also, some DACs only have coax and Toslink capabilities. If your computer doesn’t have those, you can use the E10K to convert the signal from USB to coax and then connect the other DAC to the E10K.
Another option you have is to run a Toslink cable from a receiver/TV into a converter. Then run a cable from the other end of the converter into the E10K. Now you can use it with your TV!
I also came across an amazon review that claimed you could plug this right into a PS4 and use it for Gaming. I was surprised to find out that it is indeed instantly recognized and you can plug your headphones right in.
The only issue is that the volume isn’t loud enough even turned all the way up with the gain switch ticked (I’m using high sensitivity headphones as well). I imagine this is because it’s not receiving a dedicated power source. The solution to this would perhaps be to use one of these coax to optical converters, but I have yet to try it out.
Given how versatile and valuable the E10K is, I think it’s definitely worth trying it with a converter and I will update this article once I have done so. Even adding the cost of the converter, you’re getting a potentially great gaming rig for under $100. Stay tuned for future updates (Bookmark the article!)
All in all, pretty impressive for such a small and inexpensive unit!
The best part of the E10K is the crisp, neutral, and honest sound it provides.
As of this article, I still run an old Lenovo T510 laptop, and the internal Soundcard is pretty poopy. What is a Soundcard?
A poopy Soundcard suffers from all of your typical crappy problems: Low volume, noise, interference, etc. The E10K is the perfect solution for those looking for an upgrade from that type of dire situation.
It seems to add clarity, dimension, a bit of extra Soundstage, and improves upon dynamics and speed (known as transient response). You’ll likely be floored by the improvement, and may not upgrade for quite awhile (if ever)! What is Soundstage?
Simply put, the sound is very immaculate and likely to impress you to a startling degree. I’ve heard plenty of headphone Amps, and the E10K really holds it’s own against some of the higher priced models.
It faithfully stays true to the incredible sound of the HD650. Timbre, resolution/clarity, great imaging, and warmth are all hallmarks of a great sound, and the 650 doesn’t fail to deliver. The E10K does a fantastic job of sticking to the script and not altering the soundscape in any way. What is Timbre?
Any Amp/DAC under $100 that can do this deserves high praise and is most certainly worthy of my money.
With that said, what’s my Final Grade for this little beast?
I have to give the E10K a perfect A+. The only thing I would change about it is making it compatible with a phone, but that’s it. There’s nothing else about it that disappoints me in the slightest.
It does exactly what it’s advertised to do, which is to provide an upgraded sound from your Laptop or PC’s crappy signal. It also works phenomenally well on the go, as I’m sitting here typing this away from home on my laptop and listening to Spotify. It’s portable, convenient, and extremely versatile as well, with an almost impeccable sound and excellent build.
There’s not much else to say about this little buddy..
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His strict attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel and stand out among-st the crowd.