I’ve long been critical of Audiophiles discussing the merits of DAC’s and headphone amps and i’ll be honest I truly thought on board PC audio was at a point where they were basically null and void – and while I still think some of the higher end boards would be pretty close my recent experience with the Fiio E10k proves to me that a notable listening improvement can be made by using a dedicated headphone amp and DAC.
The Fiio E10k is tiny – like really really small, you don’t really get the sense of scale till it’s sitting in your own hands. Doesn’t matter though as the unit is built solidly and comes with little rubber feet that keep it surprisingly planted on your desktop. It’s not heavy nor does it have a large base so you can put it just about anywhere, though with the volume control and the bass booster switch you’ll probably want it somewhere within easy reach.
The E10K interfaces with your computer or mac (works with linux too!) via a micro USB cable and it’s entirely plug and play – no drivers required. Simply plug it in, plug your headphones in the front of it and hit play, it’s a very simple to use device. I haven’t tried it with an android device – but reportedly Viper4Android provides suitable drivers for use within Android too, but you need to use a player that you select the sound output with – so perhaps something to think about with an Android HTPC to get decent audio out.
The E10k also features Coaxial out as well as a standard 3.5mm line out also for connecting speakers – though with my limited testing the bass booster and volume knob only work with the headphone out.
Speaking of the controls – the volume control has a nice solid feel and the rubber feet keep it stuck to your desk while you adjust the volume with the knob, it all works suspiciously well despite the small size, I’m glad to see the Chinese manufacturers are starting to actually try and use their products in the real world before shipping them as we’re starting to see the kind of thought put into western designs – exciting times.
There is a bass booster via a small toggle switch next to the volume control, it adds a small but noticeable amount of bass to the sound at little to not cost in sound quality – great feature for those with headphones lacking a little bass.
The sound quality is excellent and an instant improvement over the on board sound on my motherboard. I was astonished at the marked improvement given my skepticism of the audiophile community given that one of the bigger complaints seems to be the micro USB not being easily replaceable with a gold plated USB cable, I don’t think some of them know how digital cables work.
On the sound I noticed improved sound stage and clarity over the on board instantly – It was like a cloudy filter was removed from the music and everything just sounded clear and bright. I have my E10k pared with my Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X’s and it’s truly night and day comparatively. The AD900X is a bit light in the bass department for my tastes also – the built in bass booster adds just the right amount of bass without distorting the music – winner!
The E10k was an absolutely essential purchase in my book, it’s extremely versatile too with the line outs meaning I can pair it with a set of speakers also for great versatility. At the very worst it’s a fantastic cheap sound card and there is a good chance i’ll pick one up for my HTPC to output to a set of self powered speakers using the line out functionality.