On the market for a budget-friendly DAC for your gaming laptop? Or you want to improve the quality of music coming out of your laptop and to your headphones? If yes, the Fiio E10K headphone amplifier is a viable option for you. Small and compact in design, this device is an upgrade from its earlier model, the Fiio E10, with an improved design, features, and performance. In our Fiio E10K review below, we'll go deeper into the details of this headphone amp to help you decide if it's a worthy investment for you.
What is Fiio E10K?
Before we dive into our Fiio E10K USB DAC and headphone amplifier review, let's briefly familiarize ourselves with the Fiio E10K device. Fiio E10K is a high-resolution headphone amplifier designed to improve your laptop's audio output quality. The sleek-looking, compact device houses a PCM5102 DAC chip that enables it to handle PCM files of up to 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. It features selectable bass and low-pass filter, which give you the freedom of customizing your audio according to your taste and preferences.
The most notable aspect of this headphone DAC regarding design is its smaller size. It measures approx. 0.83 x 1.93 x 3.11 inches, which makes it small enough o hold in your hand. The compact design means it's something you can c in your pocket and carry it to any place.
Its outer casing involves a solid piece of brushed aluminum with headphone jack plus controls on one end USB input and outputs on the other end.
It presents you with a headphone output measuring 1/8-inch jack plug, with a large recess around its outer side. This is a major improvement from the original Fiio E10K, which had a tight recess around the headphone output, making it hard to fit some headphone jacks.
Right next to the headphone output, you'll notice the DAC bass boost. This particular feature drives audiophiles crazy as it lets you easily add a bass boost to your favorite tunes
Next to the bass boost, you'll discover a rotary volume control knob, which doubles as the power switch. You can rotate this knob from 0 to 8, with an extra click past zero for off. You'll appreciate that turning this knob is a smooth process. This is often amiss with most of the electronic devices within affordable ranges.
One more design difference that sets this headphone amp from the previous E10 model is the hi/low gain switch. While the gain attenuation was located on the bottom of the amp in the earlier model, the E10K has the switch situated in the rear, just next to the inputs and outputs, for easier, hassle-free access.
It'd be unfair not to acknowledge the solid construction this device comes with. It features a black sprayed aluminum housing which balances between durability and lightweight. You have no reason to suspect that this housing will fall apart with continued use—the sprayed paint won't chip off too.
Also, the volume and the two switches are made using durable plastic material, so they won't break anytime soon. And given that these switches don't protrude from the housing too much, they won't easily get caught up.
Inputs and Outputs
As for the inputs and outputs, the main difference between E10 and E10k models is that the latter comes with a micro USB input while the former features a mini USB input. Needless to mention, the type of USB input will have no single effect on how the little guy operates. The type of input to get if simply a matter of personal preference
Note that the device is powered through this micro USB input, when you connect it to your laptop. In other words, the device must always be connected to the laptop to operate.
Also worth mentioning are additional inputs lined up next to the micro USB input. These include the coaxial output and a 1/8-inch output. Keep in mind that the E10K's rear inputs aren't variable, so you can't use this device as a preamp. If you want to, however, you can feed the DAC into the preamp.
The headphone output works with headphones rated between 16 and 150 ohms. This range usually includes entry-level and standard headphone models. You can also use high impedance headphones if you wish to…but you won't achieve optimal performance in this case.
Compared to the competing DACs, this model delivers a slight improvement in bass improved…this is simply attributed to the bass boost switch it comes with. Even if you fully disengage the bass boost feature, the DAC will still sound bassy.
The bass boost is quite powerful and might feel too much if you're watching movies or gaming. The feature might be more suitable for music as it offers you smoother, more powerful listening experience.
If you have used the original E10 DAC, then you're already familiar with this one major issue—the bass boost affecting frequencies into the midrange. The good news is that this newer model has solved the issue. And now, the bass boost is only reserved for the mid frequencies to ensure clean audio quality.
Though we've said the audio coming out of this device is clean, you might experience some loss in the midrange.
Overall, the device might not give you premium audio quality, but it will still deliver something quite good. And that's perfectly okay for a DAC priced under $100.
So, that's it for our in-depth Fiio e10k review. The headphone amplifier is extremely easy to use, features good looks and great build quality, and produces great sound. Probably the sweet spot about this little device is that it offers you too much at a much less cost. As long as you have decent headphones for gaming or listening to music, this DAC device is worth investing in. If you're looking for an affordable headphone amplifier with great performance, we have no reason not to stop you from going for this Fiio E10K model.