Objective Reviews & Commentary - An Engineer's Perspective

January 19, 2012

FiiO E10 DAC

e10 dscopeINTRO: First off, I’m sorry this review has taken so long. I started receiving requests to review the FiiO E10 long before it was even available in the US. Finally it became available for a short time from a few US vendors but then disappeared. After many months it appeared again and I managed to borrow one in December to test. But the holidays, travel, and year-end workload, intervened. Since the first of the year I’ve had many unplanned non-audio distractions. But, finally, here’s the long awaited E10 review! Thanks for everyone’s patience.

FiiO E10: The FiiO E10 is a simple Chinese designed and built USB powered headphone DAC designed to outperform the older, but more expensive and feature laden, FiiO E7. It has a USB port, headphone output, line output, coaxial S/PDIF digital output, gain switch, bass EQ switch and a volume control. The E10’s closest popular competitor might be the NuForce uDAC-2 I reviewed in February of last year. The E10 is impressively small and highly portable. It’s typically priced around $80 in the USA making it much cheaper than the flawed uDAC-2.

COMPARED TO FiiO E7: The E10 is missing several E7 features. They include battery operation, a line input allowing use as a headphone amp (for say an iPod or other portable device), multiple EQ settings, microprocessor control, electronic volume adjustment, a digital display and the E9 docking option.

FUTURE FiiO E17: If you miss some of the E7 features, but want the better audio performance of the E10, you might wait for the future E17. But, if it’s anything like the E10’s USA introduction, be prepared to wait a while. FiiO seems to be having problems with manufacturing, distribution, and/or releasing products too early.

E10 VERSIONS: Some speculated FiiO revised the E10 during the several months it disappeared from the US market (hence the big gap in shipments). And FiiO recently announced they’ve formally changed it—perhaps for the second time. The version tested here was purchased in December 2011 but is not the latest one pictured on the FiiO website. The latest version has a gold headphone jack.

MADE IN CHINA PROBLEMS? I’m not sure what’s behind the E10 changes. It might be FiiO switched manufacturing to a different factory to save some money. That’s happening a lot in China lately with Chinese labor rates rising rapidly and build quality fluctuating as cheaper labor is being used for assembly. If you’re curious to know more check out this excellent Wired magazine article on recent problems with Chinese manufacturing (it even features a headphone maker). There are many more articles on this topic. The big players like Apple have locked up the best manufacturing in China and the smaller companies, like FiiO, are often having to really struggle to maintain quality at a decent price.

GAIN SWITCH: The recessed gain switch on the bottom adds about 7 dB of gain in the High Gain position. It also causes the amp to clip with a normal input signal at only around 5 or 6 (50% or 60%) on the volume control. The good news is this switch helps adapt the E10 to various headphones. Use the low gain position with sensitive headphones like IEMs. Only use the high gain position if the E10 won’t get loud enough when set to low. The gain switch has no effect on the line output. Do not use the high gain position for headphones 32 ohms or lower as the E10 will only clip rather than produce more output.

BASS EQ SWITCH: The EQ switch only works on the headphone output not the line output. It causes a broad boost that starts at midrange frequencies and is a constant +5 db below about 100 hz. This requires the E10 to produce over three times as much power below 100 hz and can easily push it into clipping.

INSTALLATION: The E10 installed smoothly without needing any drivers in Windows 7 and XP. Depending on where you’re looking, it’s identified as either “DigiHug USB Audio" or “FiiO USB DAC-E10”. I have no idea what “DigiHug” stands for. A Google search brings up an iPad game and cartoon characters. Perhaps it’s a Chinese thing? The PC’s master volume control, unlike with the E7, remains functional.

USABILITY: The E10 is easy enough to use and, for its size, the ergonomics are reasonable. The gain switch is recessed flush into the bottom of the enclosure so it’s difficult to accidently change the gain. The volume knob is a nice size and there’s not much else to worry about besides the bass EQ switch. Like most FiiO products, they mostly did an impressive job with the industrial design for the price.

HEADPHONE REJECTION: One annoying problem is the headphone jack likes to eject the headphone plug with the slightest tug on the headphone cable. Given that most of us move around while wearing our headphones such tugs can happen relatively often. The jack seems to be poorly designed so the spring loaded contact that’s supposed to lock into the groove on the tip of the 3.5mm plug instead barely hangs on to just the tip. I tried several different headphones and they all reacted similarly. Others have reported similar behavior with their E10s. It’s especially bad for headphones with thicker/stiffer cables. This is the sort of problem someone at FiiO surely was aware of but they shipped zillions of E10s anyway. Not good.

DELAYED REACTIONS: Some have complained the E10 delays producing audio when it’s first fed a digital signal (it defaults to being muted when there’s no digital signal or “digital silence”). I confirmed that’s the case but I didn’t try to measure the delay. This is typically only a minor annoyance except for certain applications like live chat/VOIP where the E10 could clip off essential parts of speech.

SUBJECTIVE SOUND QUALITY: The E10 sounded fine with the headphones I tried. Playing some really wide dynamic range music with my Sennheiser HD650s it seemed to clip on the peaks when I pushed it fairly loud in high gain mode. With my very sensitive Ultimate Ears Super Fi Pro IEMs I could hear some hiss even at low gain but it wasn’t objectionable. I also noticed some channel balance error at low volumes with the Super Fi IEMs. I didn’t much like the bass boost with any of my headphones as it mucked up the lower midrange and vocals. It was also very “boomy”.

LACK OF CONSISTENCY: Older FiiO products (even the $20 E5) have better bass EQ than the E10. It’s disappointing there’s almost no consistency between the bass EQ among FiiO products. Every FiiO product I’ve tested is significantly different and they’re getting worse. This implies either FiiO doesn’t care if they get it right or they really have no idea what’s best. Quality audio products, in my opinion, are designed to a consistent set of goals. Things like headphone bass EQ should be based on what works best with popular headphones and listener preferences. That shouldn’t change from amp to amp or DAC to DAC. It’s always sad to see a company go backwards with their new designs.

MEASUREMENT SUMMARY: With some notable exceptions, the E10 measured about as I expected for an $80 headphone DAC. For those who want to use it to directly drive headphones it’s important to know the limitations of the headphone output. For those who want to use the E10 as only a DAC, and will be using the line output, you can skip the next two paragraphs:

  • Headphone Output - The E10’s headphone performance was similar to the FiiO E11 and fairly respectable if you can live with a maximum output of 1.5 to 2.5 Vrms depending on the headphones.  The distortion performance was acceptable but a bit marginal into lower impedance loads. There’s also some channel balance error in the sample I tested that was audible with my IEMs and measured higher than I like to see. The bass EQ option is far from ideal and more “boom” than bass. Using the EQ may also overload the amp and/or many headphones at loud levels.
  • Headphone Compatibility - There may be some audible noise with sensitive headphones (especially B.A. IEMs like Shures, Etymotics, Ultimate Ears, etc.). Even the low gain setting forces using only about the first 30% of the volume control’s range with these IEMs. At the other extreme, even set to high gain, the E10 is marginal for having enough output for many popular full size cans like the Sennheiser HD650/600. If you listen at “live” levels to highly dynamic music the E10 can easily clip with such cans. For headphones that require even more output, like the popular 600 ohm Beyers, several AKGs, HiFiMan planars, etc., you’re likely to be disappointed. The good news is the E10 has a low output impedance so it’s well suited for most IEMs and some sensitive low impedance cans like the Denon D2000. When looking at headphone reviews on InnerFidelity, look for a 90 dB SPL voltage of 0.15 Vrms or less (up to 0.25 Vrms might be OK if they’re high impedance and you don’t like loud levels). For headphones rated in dB/V look for a rating of at least 106 dB. For headphones rated in dB/mW things get more complex. See the More Power article.
  • DAC Performance – The DAC performance of the E10 is a mixed bag. Overall it’s a more respectable DAC than say the NuForce uDAC-2 or any of the inexpensive DACs I recently tested including the UCA202, Creative X-Fi Go, and Asus U3. But its 24 bit performance at 44 Khz was far short of what it should be. The dynamic range from the line out was 97.6 dB which is only 16.2 effective bits of performance. That’s barely better than a good 16 bit DAC. The noise and dynamic range is still likely “good enough” if you use the volume control on the E10 and leave your PC volume turned all the way up. But if you want to control the volume from your PC, you might want to look for a DAC with closer to 18 effective number of bits (ENOB). That allows enough dynamic range to allow penalty free use of the PC’s volume control—the E10 falls short.
  • E10 vs E7 – The most obvious advantage of the the E10 is significantly more output than the E7 and its ability to drive a wider variety of headphones—especially higher impedance models. The E10 is relatively free of the excessive ultrasonic “crud” that’s always present in the output of the E7 (and E5/6). How much the “crud” is audible is difficult to say but it’s a potential concern with the E7. The E10 DAC can also run in 24 bit mode, and while it barely delivers better than 16 performance, it is still quieter and has more dynamic range than the E7. The E10 generally has lower distortion than the E7. Finally the E7 disables the volume control in the PC’s operating system and the E10 does not.

Here’s how the E10 measures up to some other headphone DAC’s I’ve tested. The ratings use a letter grade from A to F where A is excellent and F is Fail (unacceptable). In some cases the letter grade takes into account more than just the raw number:

Measurement FiiO E10 Asus U3 X-Fi Go UCA202 FiiO E7
Freq. Resp. 10K +/- 0.1 dB A +/-1.5 dB C +/- 0.4 dB A +/- 0.1 dB A +/- 0.1 dB A
Freq. Resp. 33 ohm +/- 0.1 dB A +/-1.5 dB C +/-5.0 dB D N/A +/- 0.1 dB A
HP Output Imp ohm 0.5 A 23.6 D 7.8 C 47 F 0.13 A
Max Output 10K 1.65V B 2.15V A 1.0V 1.12V B N/A
Max Output 32 ohm 1.55 V B 0.9V C 0.75V C N/A 1.3V B
Max Power 32 ohm 75 mW B 25 mW C 18 mW C N/A 53 mW B
Max Power 600 ohm 10 mW D 8 mW D 2 mW F 2 mW F 3 mW F
THD+N 0 dBFS 10K 0.005% A 0.01% 0.007% A 0.008% A 0.14% C
THD+N 100hz 10K 0.004% A 0.008% A 0.007% A 0.007% A 0.07% C
THD+N 100hz 32 Ω 0.004% A 0.02% B 0.02% B N/A N/A
THD+N 1Khz 10K 0.004% A 0.008% A 0.007% A 0.007% A 0.03% B
THD+N 1K 32 Ω 0.004% A 0.04% B 0.009% A N/A 0.03% B
THD+N 10Khz 10K 0.004% A 0.008% A 0.009% A 0.009% A 0.06% C
THD+N 10Khz 32 Ω 0.015% B 0.01% B 0.01%B N/A N/A
IMD CCIF 10K/32 Ω 0.013% B 0.004% A 0.004% A 0.005% A 0.03% D
IMD SMPTE 10K 0.004% A 0.004% A 0.0005% A 0.002% A 0.008% B
Noise A-Wtd dBu -98.3 C* -91.6 B -88.9 C -88.8 C -93.7 B
-60 dBFS DNR dB -97.6 C N/A N/A N/A N/A
-90 dBFS Linearity 0.0 db A 1.2 dB B 1.5 dB B 3.8 dB C 0.1 dB A
USB Jitter Jtest VG B VG B VG B VG B Fair C

*NOTES: The E10 noise is relative to 24 bit performance. The other DACs were tested at 16 bits.


  • Small size
  • Relatively low price
  • Decent headphone output within its limitations
  • Low headphone output impedance
  • Respectable 16 bit DAC performance
  • Two gain modes


  • 24 bit mode only offers 16.2 bits effective resolution
  • Audible noise with highly sensitive headphones
  • Channel balance error may be audible
  • Poor bass EQ is boomy, corrupts midrange, and may cause overload
  • Line output is nearly 2 dB below 2 Vrms Redbook standard
  • Headphone plug pops out of the jack easily
  • Not enough output for some popular full size headphones
  • Clips above 50% volume in high gain mode
  • Delay may mute start of audio in some circumstances
  • Marginally high line output impedance
  • Potential problems if connected to grounded equipment
  • Marginally high DC offset—especially in high gain mode

BOTTOM LINE: The E10 has some issues but still is a clear step up from $30 to $40 products like the X-Fi Go and Asus Xonar U3. Overall, if it has enough output for your headphones and you plan to use the volume control on the E10 or a downstream amp, it’s worth considering—especially if you’re on a tight budget. But if you want to control the volume at your PC, you might be better off with a 24 bit DAC that offers more dynamic range and effective bit resolution like the HRT Music Streamer II (which requires a headphone amp like the O2) or a Centrance DACport with the low impedance output option. If you have difficult to drive headphones you may need a dedicated high output headphone amp like the O2 portable amp or upcoming ODA/ODAC.


TECH INTRO: I’ve been getting a lot of feedback lately saying things like “nice blog but your reviews are way over my head”. I want to make it clear if you’re not a total audio geek, engineer, scientist, etc. you probably want to stop reading here. All the important stuff has already been summarized above. The rest is mostly just the behind the scenes details for those who care about such things.

TECH INFO: The E10 supposedly uses the setting same AD8397 op amp as the FiiO E11 and AMB Mini3. It’s a high current, and somewhat “high strung” op amp that works better in the E10/E11 than the Mini3. The E10 also supposedly uses the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip. Unless otherwise noted, I made most measurements using the low gain setting. Several measurements, where applicable, were made from both the line and headphone outputs. I also spot checked some measurements at 24/48 and 24/96 where most performance was similar to 24/44. The E10 is not usable at 24/88 due to a limitation of the USB interface. For more information on my audio measurements, see Music vs Sine Waves, Testing Methods, and Headphone Amp Measurements (InnerFidelity).

VIRTUAL GROUNDS: It would seem the E10, unlike the Mini3 clone E11, does not use a virtual ground. This makes sense because the virtual ground in the E11 prevents using the USB charging port while using it due to the potential severe ground conflicts. The E10, being entirely USB powered, has to operate connected to the PC’s ground. That said, when I connected the E10 to my grounded Agilent scope it freaked out and had massive DC offset. So while there’s no DC voltage between the USB ground and the input or output audio grounds, the E10 seems sensitive to ground loops. Use extreme caution when using it with grounded equipment.

MAXIMUM OUTPUT LEVEL AT CLIPPING: At the low gain setting the E10 will not clip into 35 ohms or higher impedance loads. Below 35 ohms, however, it mildly clips at near full volume with a 0 dBFS signal. At the high gain setting it always clips well before full volume even with no load. The clipping point drops proportionally with the load impedance. This is a bit disappointing as many users will need to be careful not to set the volume too high or they risk severe clipping distortion. But the flip side is having some excess gain for “quiet” recordings. The maximum output above 35 ohms was 1.55 Vrms at the low gain setting and it varied at the high gain setting as the E10 runs out of current below about 35 ohms. It reaches a voltage limit of 2.7 Vrms into no load at hard clipping. This works out to for <1% THD (low gain/high gain):

  • 16 ohms = 1.5 Vrms 140 mW / 1.5 Vrms 140 mW
  • 32 ohms = 1.5 Vrms 70 mW / 2.1 Vrms 138 mW (or 75 mW at initial 1.55V clip point)
  • 80 ohms = 1.55 Vrms 30 mW / 2.5 Vrms 78 mW
  • 300 ohms = 1.55 Vrms 8 mW / 2.52 Vrms 21 mW
  • 600 ohms = 1.55 Vrms 4 mw / 2.6 Vrms 11 mW
  • Line Out 100K = 1.65 Vrms, 10K = 1.55 Vrms, 600 ohms = 0.82 Vrms.

CLIPPING ODDITIES & CURRENT LIMITS: The E10, when set to High Gain, has the same odd clipping behavior below about 35 ohms as the E11 does. This isn’t surprising as the E10 shares the E11’s output AD8397 op amp and perhaps some power supply details as well. The true clipping point is hard to define but distortion rises dramatically above 1.5 Vrms into 32 ohms. This is very likely caused by the DC-DC converter running out of current and letting the supply rails sag badly. This isn’t ideal behavior as it means the amp is generating substantial distortion over a relatively wide range of output levels into 35 ohms or less before it’s obviously clipping. The O2’s current limiting, by comparison, takes place in the final output stage (versus the E10’s power supply) and the O2 maintains low distortion right up to the true clip point.

LINE LEVEL OUTPUT & GAIN: The term “gain” is a bit hard to define for a device with only a digital input. The Redbook standard for digital audio devices is 0 dBFS of input is supposed to give 2 Vrms of output. With the E10 you only get, at best, 1.65 Vrms. That gives a “gain” of negative 1.7 dB (i.e. the E10 is 1.7 dB below the reference standard). The gain switch has no effect on the line output but adds 7 dB of gain to the headphone output in the High Gain position. The low gain position is still arguably on the high side for balanced armature IEMs and other highly sensitive headphones that only need about 0.3 volts versus the 1.5 volts the E10 delivers. So, with sensitive headphones, you’re stuck using only a small portion of the E10’s volume range which makes the channel balance problems worse and small volume adjustments more difficult.

EXCESS GAIN: For lack of a better description, “excess gain” is my generic term for “extra volume control range” above and beyond the normal clipping point (or desired maximum output) with a 0 dBFS signal. For the E10 in high gain mode it’s about 3 dB into high impedance loads and increases into loads below 35 ohms as the E10 runs out of current and clips sooner. The E10, in high gain mode, starts clipping around “5” or “6” on the volume control (50% to 60% of the range) depending on the load with a typical input signal where the peaks hit 0 dBFS.

0 dBFS DAC PERFORMANCE: The E10 distortion only rose slightly from 0.004% to 0.005% with a 0 dBFS input versus –1 dBFS. This means there’s no significant problem with clipping in the DAC chip or related circuitry (unlike the oddly designed NuForce uDAC-2 which rose to nearly 1% at 0 dBFS).

THD+N vs OUTPUT: The E10 has acceptable but not great distortion performance at 1 Khz. The green line in the graph below represents the upper limit of what’s desirable. In high gain mode the E10 flirts with the limit around 0.75 volts output which is marginal performance. The red line shows the line output which maxes out at 1.65 Vrms with no clipping and reasonably low THD+N. The yellow line shows the odd clipping behavior (likely due to power supply limitations) into 32 ohms mentioned above. The channels were fairly closely matched but not exactly. The aqua and blue lines show the imbalance—likely due to PCB layout problems or compromises.  The two blue-ish lines should be on top of each other. At higher output levels into 16 ohms the currents flowing in the PCB traces are highest and that’s where PCB layout is the most critical. See the Legend for a description of each line:

FiiO E10 THD N vs Output Voltage Both Ch See Legend 24-44 BW=22 Khz

OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: The output impedance is measured at 100 hz as that’s typically where headphone damping is most critical. The E10 dropped from 400 mV no load to 389 mV with a 16 ohm load. This works out to about a 0.5 ohm output impedance which is acceptably low. The line output had a 600 ohm output impedance which is higher than I prefer to see (under 100 ohms is typical). The E10’s line output may have problems with long cable runs, amp inputs with low impedances, passive preamps/volume controls, higher noise, and the input filters in some devices. It will, however, work OK with the O2 and ODA’s input circuitry.

16 BIT RESOLUTION : The following is a 1 Khz undithered sine wave at an extremely low level of –90 dBFS. A proper bit accurate DAC (no upsampling, internal dither, etc.) should reproduce the sine wave as three distinct stepped levels. The E10 performs as expected:

FiiO E10 1 Khz -90 dBFS Undithered Sinewave Bit Accuract 16 bit

24 BIT RESOLUTION: When the above test is run at 24 bits, if the DAC really supports more than 16 bits, you should get something close to a sine wave. The E10 performs correctly:

FiiO E10 1 Khz -90 dBFS Undithered Sinewave Bit Accuracy 24 bit

FREQUENCY RESPONSE: The frequency response is plotted below from 20 hz to 20 Khz via the line output. It was the same at 16 and 600 ohms from the headphone output. There’s nothing to complain about here and it indicates the E10’s line and headphone outputs are likely direct coupled (no capacitors):

FiiO E10 -1 dBFS Frequency Response Line Out 100K 16-44

THD+N vs FREQUENCY -1 dBFS: The yellow/orange plot shows the distortion vs frequency via the line output and the blue plot shows the headphone output into 32 ohms at 1.38 volts (-1 dBFS at full volume and low gain). Below about 1000 hz the two outputs are similar. Above 1 Khz the headphone output exhibits rising distortion getting very close to the green threshold line. The drop above 7 Khz is normal due to the intentional bandwidth restriction of the measurement. The line out performance is fine while the headphone output is marginal but acceptable. It should be noted the headphone output is shown at low gain. It was significantly worse at high gain even at the same output voltage:

FiiO E10 -1 dBFS THD N vs Freq yellow line out 100K blue HP 32 ohms 16-44

SMPTE IMD: This is a twin tone test of both low (60 hz) and high (7 Khz) frequencies together in a specific ratio as defined by the SMPTE standard. The dScope ignores the regular THD from each tone and instead looks for distortion created by the two tones interacting with each other. But the raw number doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s also important how much “spread” there is at the base of the 7 Khz tone. Ideally everything should be comfortably under –80 dB and that’s the case with the E10 into 32 ohms at around 1 volt. The line output was a bit better than shown here but similar:FiiO E10 -3 dBFS SMPTE IMD Both Ch Line Out 32 ohms ref 1.55V 16-44

CCIF IMD: This also a twin tone test but at 19 Khz and 20 Khz. This test is far more revealing of audible forms of high frequency distortion than simple THD measurements are above 6 Khz. The reason is the third harmonic of signals 7 Khz and higher are beyond the range of human hearing and beyond the typical cut off frequency of the distortion analysis. But an amplifier with high frequency non-linearities will create even-order distortion products on this test at 1 Khz, 2 Khz, etc. and odd order distortion at at 18 Khz, 17 Khz, etc. All of these are within the audio range and, if above –80 dB, may be audible under some conditions. The E10 struggled a bit (especially in Ch B) with several distortion markers reaching for the green threshold line and one barely exceeding it. it’s notable there are significant differences between the channels. The yellow channel was quite a bit worse likely due to the PCB layout as previously discussed. This is marginal but acceptable performance for 1 volt into 32 ohms. Again, the line output was a bit better:

FiiO E10 -3 dBFS CCIF IMD Both Ch HP Out 32 ohms 16-44

NOISE & DYNAMIC RANGE 16 BIT: Reproducing a 1 Khz signal at a very quiet –60 dBFS the noise is measured by the dScope removing the 1 Khz signal and its harmonic distortion and calculating the left over noise out to 22 Khz. This test is referenced to the maximum clean output of the device at 0 dBFS. A perfect 16 bit DAC has 96 dB of un-weighted dynamic range. Most audio noise measurements supplied my manufactures are A-Weighted which adjusts for the sensitivity of human hearing to noise. Using the line output, and referencing its maximum output of 1.65 volts, the dynamic range (DNR) is approaching the best you can get from 16 bits which is 96 dB. This shows the DAC, not the analog circuitry after it, is the limiting factor and about as good of performance as you can expect from a 16 bit DAC. The headphone output had only slightly more noise so the DAC chip itself seems to be the dominant noise source in the E10:

FiiO E10 -60 dBFS Dynamic Range & Noise Both Ch Line Out Ref 1.65 Vrms 16-44

NOISE & DYNAMIC RANGE 24 BIT: Switching to 24 bit mode, with everything else the same as above, things don’t improve nearly as much as I would have expected. If you look closely you can see the central part of the noise floor drops about 10 dB. That’s what I would expect. But, unfortunately, there are a bunch of new noise components apparently related to operating the DAC chip in 24/44 mode and reproducing the –60 dBFS 1 Khz signal. The result is the total A-Weighted dynamic range is 97.6 dB. That’s only about 2 dB better than the 16 bit result above and only 16.2 effective bits of performance. While this is still OK for applications that use the E10’s volume control it might be a problem for those wanting to leave the E10 volume turned up and use only the PC’s volume control. Especially with sensitive headphones you may hear some noise from the E10 under similar conditions. I’m not sure what’s causing the extra noise but my guess would be the digital filtering on the Wolfson DAC isn’t optimized for 24/44 operation:

FiiO E10 -60 dBFS Dynamic Range & Noise Both Ch Line Out Ref 1.65 Vrms 24-44

DAC LINEARITY & 24 BIT ABSOLUTE NOISE: Linearity measures how accurately a DAC can reproduce very low levels. A DAC should be within +/- 1 db at –90 dBFS and many remain linear to even lower levels. The E10 does fine in the linearity department, but one channel has much more high frequency noise than the other in 24/44 mode. The extra noise goes away in 16 bit mode. This seems related to the same problem discussed above but here it’s low enough in level to not be a big problem. The absolute noise is 49 uV or –98 dBu which is quiet enough for most full size cans, but not for total silence with really sensitive IEMs—especially if you control the volume at the PC:

FiiO E10 -90 dBFS Linearity & Absolute Noise HP Vol = 100% Ref 1.55 V rms 24-44

MODULATION NOISE: Ideally the noise floor of a DAC will remain constant regardless of the signal level. In practice, this is rarely true and the noise typically rises with the signal. If the noise is high enough this can be an audible problem as the noise will fluctuate in response to the music—something the ear seems especially sensitive to. The important criteria is how flat the noise curve is with respect to the level and how far below the green threshold it is. The blue-sih lines are the two channels in 24/44 mode while the orange/yellow lines are the two channels at 16/44. At lower levels the E10 is quieter in 24 bit mode but, interestingly, at around –12 dBFS and above, it’s quieter in 16 bit mode. Again, I suspect this is related to the problem in the previous two tests in 24 bit mode. Everything is below the green line, and hence likely inaudible, but this is more odd behavior. The blue line should be at least 6 below the orange line across the entire graph:

FiiO E10 100hz Modulation Noise AES17 A-Wtd Sweep -30 to -1 dBFS Line Out Yel 16-44 Blue 24-44

CROSSTALK: Into 32 ohms the E10 measured a consistent 55 dB of crosstalk across the audio range. The flat result implies it’s almost entirely limited by the impedance of the ground circuitry and shared common ground in the headphone jack. It’s an acceptable result but just below the green threshold at –50 dB. Using the line output the crosstalk is about –95 dB best case at low frequencies and steadily rises to about –55 dB at 20 Khz. This shows high frequency coupling in the PCB layout and volume pot. This is also an acceptable result:

FiiO E10 Crosstalk Yellow HP 32 Ohms White Line Out 100K

CHANNEL BALANCE: With the volume set at 40% (a typical setting) there was about 0.25 dB of channel balance error as can be seen below. I didn’t do my usual graphing at many volume settings, but adjusting the volume knob and watching the dScope’s live reading of channel balance, the error was somewhat worse than usual overall. At my usual level of –45 dB below full volume it measured 1.3 dB which is over the 1 dB threshold and generally audible. At even lower levels the error was as high as 5 dB while at higher levels it varied randomly with the volume setting but was generally around 0.25 – 1.0 dB. This is marginal performance and a sign FiiO probably didn’t spend enough money on a decent volume pot:

FiiO E10 -1 dBFS Frequency Response Both Ch Vol=40% HP See Legend Ref 1 Vrms 16-44

JITTER & INTERCHANNEL PHASE: Here’s the spectrum from the dScope’s J-Test for jitter. It’s a special signal at 1/4 the sampling rate with the lowest bit toggled on and off. It’s not possible to summarize this test in one number. What matters most are the number and height of symmetrical distortion components mirrored on either side of the 11025 hz signal which indicate high frequency jitter components. And the amount of “spread” at the base of the signal indicates the relative amount of low frequency jitter. Ideally nothing should reach above –110 dB (with a slight allowance for exceptions near the main signal). But, it’s worth noting, there is considerable debate about the audibility of various amounts of jitter (see: Jitter Does it Matter?). The E10 stays under the green guideline but barely. The result is shown for both 16 and 24 bit modes. Besides the noise floor dropping in 24 bit mode not much else changes. The phase error, as would be expected with a decent DAC chip like the Wolfson, is essentially zero. This is an acceptable, but not great, performance:

FiiO E10 Jitter 11025hz -3 dBFS J-Test & Phase Both Ch 16-44

FiiO E10 Jitter 11025hz -3 dBFS J-Test & Phase Both Ch 24-44

BASS EQ: I’m not very impressed with the E10’s bass EQ. It reaches well up into the midrange which makes vocals (especially male vocals) sound oddly “tubby” and thick. It has almost full boost at 100 hz which is more “boom” than true bass. And, finally, it doesn’t taper off at really low and subsonic frequencies. This means when playing content with a lot of really deep bass energy (like some dance music) the E10 may clip and/or overload your headphones (bottom out the drivers) when using the EQ.  I prefer EQ curves that peak around 50 hz and rapidly taper off on both sides. The E10’s EQ is far from that ideal and notably worse than the EQ in some earlier FiiO headphone products. Going backwards is not progress:

FiiO E10 Frequency Response Bass EQ On

CLIPPING PERFORMANCE: The E10’s headphone output clipped cleanly at around +/- 4 volts peak in high gain mode into 600 ohms. Dropping the load to 16 ohms causes the E10 to be current limited and it clips at just over 2 volts peak. In both cases the clipping was clean and close to symmetrical even when viewed on a high speed scope. There was only a small amount of ultrasonic “crud” from the DC-DC converter in the E10 (not visible here). The E10 is massively better in this regard than the TI chip amp based E5, E6 and E7:

FiiO E10 1 Khz Clipping Performance HP Hi Gain Yellow 600 ohms Blue 16 ohms

IMPULSE RESPONSE: The E10 preserves absolute polarity and uses a classic linear phase digital filter with pre and post ringing. The same headphones and capacitive test load that gave the MacBook Air fits is handled by the E10 with minimal fuss. Unless you’re a fan of minimum phase filters (no pre-ringing), there’s nothing remarkable here:

FiiO E10 1 Volt 50 Sample Impulse Response CX300   Capacitance 16-44

DC OFFSET: The E10 had significantly higher DC offset than I’m used to seeing, In the low gain mode it was 14 mV in both channels. In the high gain mode it was 30 and 31 mV. This is marginal for highly sensitive IEMs and also causes some noise when you plug the headphones in. As mentioned earlier it’s apparently a DC coupled design and that may have been a poor choice without otherwise managing the resulting excessive DC offset. FiiO is clearly not sweating the hidden details like they do with the visible ones (like the case, controls, packaging, etc.). It’s form over function.

TECH COMMENTS: With a couple of notable exceptions, the E10 measured about like I expected it to. The exceptions are:

  • 24 Bit Performance - The biggest disappointment, by far, was the 24 bit performance using an industry standard –60 dBFS 24/44 signal. Wolfson quotes 117 dB A-weighted SNR at 24/48 (19.5 ENOB) for the DAC chip and the E10 only delivers about 97 dB (16.2 ENOB). I don’t expect any DAC to meet the chip’s datasheet spec, but the E10 missed by a huge 20 dB margin which rates a solid FAIL from an engineering perspective. While the E10 performs better at 48 Khz that’s only useful for watching DVDs unless you want to resample 99% of the digital music out there. Re-sampling likely creates more problems than operating the E10 at 48 Khz solves. The 24/44 issue showed up in several tests so it’s clearly not some measurement fluke. It indicates a  potential implementation problem—likely in how FiiO is configuring (or failing to properly configure) the Wolfson chip for 24/44 operation. When there’s no microcontroller the options are often very limited with communication between the USB interface and the DAC chip. The result is the DAC chip may fall on its face for certain data formats. That seems to be the case with the E10 and 24/44.
  • Poor Choice of DAC Chip: If the above is an unavoidable problem without adding a microcontroller it’s my opinion FiiO chose the wrong DAC chip. Lots of small “boutique” audio manufactures seem to put FOTM chip brands and part numbers ahead of common sense. They use parts popular among audiophiles but they’re often completely the wrong part for that particular design. That may well be the case for the E10 and for the E11 which uses the same OPA690 op amp as the Mini 3. The OPA690 is not even remotely designed or specified for audio use and holds back the performance of both the E11 and the Mini3. The WM8740 may have been a similarly poor choice for the E10. I just don’t get the logic behind such design decisions when it so obviously compromises the performance.
  • Odd Clipping/Current Limiting – Like the E11, the E10 struggles with loads below about 35 ohms. I’m guessing the DC-DC converter runs out of beans and the supply rails sag badly. That likely creates the very odd distortion behavior above 1.5 Vrms into 32 ohms or lower. The E10 would be a poor choice for low impedance current hungry headphones like most planars. This creates a situation where the amp starts distorting relatively severely before it’s obviously clipping.
  • Limited Voltage Output – The line output fails to meet the Redbook standard of 2 Vrms and the headphone output, in high gain mode, maxes out at only about 2.6 Vrms which is well short of the 5+ Vrms many headphones require including the popular Beyer DT880-600. It’s also a marginal output level for even many of the popular full size Sennheisers and AKGs. But it’s only fair to consider it’s an $80 tiny USB powered headphone DAC. Some compromises are to be expected. At least it outperforms all the cheaper USB headphone DACs I know of.
  • Channel Balance Error – The channel balance was a bit disappointing and notably worse than devices I’ve tested that use an Alps RK09 volume pot such as the O2 amp. FiiO probably chose a cheaper pot to keep the price down. The parts and labor costs of the E10 likely total less than $20 in the volumes FiiO buys at. Again, you have to expect compromises at the E10’s price.
  • Marginal THD+N & CCIF IMD – The noise floor was higher than I would like to see in 24 bit mode and the distortion driving 32 ohm headphones was a bit excessive under some conditions as well (CCIF IMD and above THD 3 khz). This indicates the AD8397 implementation and/or PC board layout are less than ideal. There was also some significant channel asymmetry between the high frequency distortion and noise performance indicating a compromised or flawed PCB layout. Again, given the small size and low price, this isn’t too surprising.
  • Marginal DC Offset – The DC offset is significantly higher than I like to see. It’s many times the typical offset of the O2. FiiO probably should have addressed this either using DC blocking caps or a DC offset compensated design. It’s something few users will be aware of but indicates they cut some serious corners in the design and/or consider marginal specs acceptable.

FINAL WORDS: If you’re OK with its limitations, and for the right applications, the E10 is worth its $80 price and a better choice than some of its competitors. I would choose the E10 over the NuForce uDAC-2, for example, without hesitation. Those with more challenging headphones may want to consider adding a higher quality headphone amp like the O2. And those who prefer to control the volume from their PC may want to choose a 24 bit USB DAC with higher dynamic range like the Centrance DACport with the low impedance output option. When used within its limitations, the E10 is decent headphone DAC for $80. But it’s compromised in several areas likely due to the low price, small size, and being USB powered.


  1. Great review, thanks. I really have don't much to say about the technical aspect, but I do have a review request: Audioengine D1. Would love to see how it compares against these popular devices like E7/E10/E17/HRT-musicstreamer-II...

  2. @Sam, like I said in the article, I'd probably choose the HRT Music Streamer II as the next most expensive option that would be a significant upgrade. After that I'd probably go for the Centrance DACport (the LX version if you want only line out). And if your pockets are even deeper, the DACmini may have some useful options. If cost is little object, get a Benchmark DAC1 USB, Pre or HDR. All of those have been credibly reviewed. On the unknown list is the Music Fidelity V-Dac II. It looks good on paper but I have no idea how it really measures up.

    1. thanks for your article, nwavguy.. btw you suggested the hrt musicstreamer ii, but i cannot see any measurements of it in this site.. is it really that good or is it just your speculation??

  3. Great review. The E10 performs great with my Grados at 16/44.1, low gain volume at 1.5 . My ears aren't equal thus the imbalance doesn't really affect me negatively as I don't notice the difference. Some aspects of the performance would definitely hold me back from purchasing it if I kept my HD600.

    PS: Can't wait for the ODAC whenever that's ready

  4. Well worth the wait, very informative review.

    I'm using the E10 with my Denon D2000, and from my limited experience I feel they pair very well; at least better than the higher priced amp/dac Fubar III, which had an output impedance of 10 ohms.

    Now, I wonder if the D2000--with its max input listed at 1800mW--would benefit further with an amp that outputs more current, since E10 is quite limited in that regards. Would it be accurate to assume D2000 are current hungry headphones?

  5. @Simon, thanks.

    @Anon, no, the D2000 is fairly sensitive. They're low impedance but the E10 has more than enough current/power for your headphones so no worries.

  6. Thanks for the review. That's a lot of work there.

    Could you tell me whether low gain or high gain is better for headphones such as the FA-003 (0.115Vrms needed and 0.19 mW needed for 90dBSPL; 105dB at 1mW and 64ohms)? Is the rule of thumb stick with low gain unless we want more volume?

    Although some of the numbers are more impressive than E7, E10 isn't really that much of an upgrade from E7, is it? I'm disappointed a little, E17 with all those fancy features may not even perform better than E7 or E10 in terms of sound... First it was the E6, and now it's the E10. At least, we know now that we shouldn't go up the ladder of FiiO's product line unless it's been measured properly.

    Would the high output impedance of the line-out affect the FR of powered speakers?

    Thanks again!

  7. Nice review Avguy been waiting for this, thank you.

    I have the D2000 also and was looking at various options. I'm currently using the headphone out of my NAD 325BEE which has an output impedance of 68 ohms according to the manual. This is less than ideal from what I've read on your site.

    The Centrance DACport LX is 10 ohms which is better but still much more than an eighth of the Denons. Currently thinking of maybe a HRT II with an 02. Do you know of any good value(~$200 USD)/performing converters with an optical in?

    Thansk for your time and keep up the good work.

  8. @kingpage, see my More Power article for more. But you need only multiply the InnerFidelity 90 dB voltages by 10 to get the minimum required voltage for that headphone. So if 0.115 Vrms is good for 90 dB you need 1.15 Vrms for them to play fairly loud. The E10 can manage 1.5 Vrms on low gain so it should be fine.

    Yes, always use the low gain position first and only try high gain if it's still not loud enough with the PC and amp volume at max.

    The E10 is an upgrade over the E7. The E10's headphone amp is cleaner, the DAC is a bit better and at least attempts 24 bit operation, it's capable of significantly more output, the PC's volume control isn't disabled, there's almost no ultrasonic crud in the output, etc.

    The line out impedance is very related to exactly what you connect it to. Powered speakers have a wide range of input impedance, input filtering, etc. So without measuring the speakers, it's impossible to say.

    The problem is well designed audio inputs usually have at least some RF filtering to keep RF (often from mobile phones) from causing a variety of problems. The cut off frequency of the RF filter is often related to the source impedance of whatever is upstream. As the source impedance goes up the cut off frequency falls. If the situation is bad enough the RF filter will cause audible roll off at the top of the audio band. The same could happen with really long cable runs with high capacitance cable.

    So, without taking apart the powered speakers and reverse engineering them, or carefully measuring their high frequency response when driven from various source impedances, it's impossible to answer your question. My best guess is "probably not in an audible way" but it really depends on the speakers.

    @Anon, the D2000 and the E10 is a pretty good match but no optical input. If you want the optical input for your PC's digital output, just forget it and use USB. If it's a CD player or some other device I'm not sure what to suggest. The HRT and an O2 is certainly a good combo. You can also get the DACport with a "zero" ohm output for an extra fee and then you don't need the O2.

  9. Thanks for the reply yes it's for a CD player, I suppose I could encode everything but I'm lazy! Didn't know about the zero ohm option for the DACport so thanks for that info.

  10. My speakers are pretty low-end, with a typical input impedance of 8ohm. High frequency roll-off would help with the hashness, I was more concerned about the the bottom end roll-off like my laptop onboard. It's convenient that I won't have to swap cables when switching from headphones to speakers and vice versa, but if the headphone-out will give better results, I don't mind about that. Shouldn't the line-out be always better than the headphone-out for using powered speakers or another amp?


  11. NwAvGuy, I just wanted to say thank you for finally releasing this review!
    I have been refreshing your blog everyday since your previous post, haha.

    Anyways, time to dive into the review.

  12. So as it stands now, what's your recommendation for a sub-$150 portable DAC/amp (preferably one that works with an iPod)? About 6 months ago, the E7 seemed like the hands-down winner in that category, but now I'm not sure how it stacks up to these fresher devices.

  13. So yet another amp that does not meet it's specs - the specs say 150mW into 32 ohms, yet you measured just 75mW. Hopeless. Thanks again for the thorough review. \Greg.

    1. Yep, SullivanG is right about the specs on fiio.com.cn for the E10. Being off a few points is one thing, but by half?!? Mind you, I have an E10 and I like it better than the on board DAC in my computer, but that just seems like a huge error. Speculation?

    2. 75mW per channel = 150mW ?

  14. Woohoo! Good news. I have Fiio E10. Interesting to read.

  15. Hey NWAVGuy, happy new year and right into it I see, thank heaps, your posts are so educational, even though I hardly understand much of the computational analysis.

    I just wanted to mention that while I await the ODAC project I needed something cheap and easy to interface my Macpro to my amp. As there Mac as native optical output, good or bad I bought a FiiO D3 for $30 with free overnight delivery.

    I will make no judgements on it fundamental SQ, but it does the interfacing job to my amps via Fidelia nicely enough, for my ears anyway. For petty cash pricing it will do until I can build your new baby. I have decided it is either a Benchmark when I can afford it, if my build of your fails.

    Great to read you again and happy 2012 all.


  16. Hi there. Thanx for a nice review. I have this DAC for 2 days, but I have a one big problem with it. It instantly crashes my Windows, when trying to play anything other than 16bit 44100Hz. Even 48kHz causes instant blue screen (BSOD). I have uploaded a video here www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHXLgGu0VCE and sent to a tech support of FiiO. Can anybody try to help me with that ? -DHlavaty

  17. Cool, thanks for the review. Some of the issues are disappointing, but regardless, this looks like the product to beat at $80.

    I wonder if FiiO's bass boost evolution has anything to do with customer feedback. It seems like a weird way to differentiate their products from each other. I'm with you in that I think the 100 Hz level should be closer to +0 dB for a bass boost. Having it extend that far: do people actually like that?

    I notice that FR charts for some intentionally bass-boosting headphones like Sony MDR-XB500, Denon AH-D1100, and so on, have the extra bass hump extend from below to about 300 Hz or so before tapering.

  18. Thanks for your all the work you put into this.

    Did you ever got your hands on a EMU USB device? I wonder how well these perform as source for the O2.

    According to this review the RMAA results look really good.

    I know your article about RMAA, so I wonder if the results are plausible at all?

    Thank you.

  19. Holy smokitos. I thought the E10 would be more useful on the pot than it is. The clipping is not cool. Everything else is like you say: as expected. And I like those green threshold lines.

    Thank you for this. I definately like nerding out with this stuff.

    Do you have a resource for explaining how to spec a power supply to deliver the amps needed for transients? I've read in a datasheet that some buffers require a dozen amps or more for a fraction of a second just to ensure over 100mA make it out the door. Is it just a function of added capacitance on either side of the regulators, or is there more at play?

  20. @kingpage, the 8 ohm rating is the unpowered speakers themselves, not the input to the powered amp. You don't have to worry about bass roll off, only the highs.

    @Ruben, if you want a decent DAC/Amp to use with an iPod there are very few choices. Some are AC powered docks, etc. only for home use. But the iPod Touch 3G and 4G really don't need a better DAC. They already perform really well. But they do sometimes need a better headphone amp. The E7 is one of the few portable battery powered DAC/Amps I can suggest until the E17 becomes available. The E10 can't be used at all with an iPod. Or use an E10 with your PC and get an E11 or E5/6 for use with your iPod. Or, for home use, wait for the ODA/ODAC.

    @SullivanG, as I said in review the clipping point at 32 ohms is open for debate. It did manage 138 mW at 1% THD. Had I tried driving just one channel I'm betting it might have managed the rated 150 mW but that's cheating. It starts distorting fairly badly beyond 75 mW.

    @Anon, your blue screen crash is odd. I've never had an audio device blue screen any of my computers using the native operating system drivers. I've had plenty of third party drivers cause crashes including those from E-Mu, Tascam, M-Audio and others. I don't know what you suggest except there's probably something corrupt with your Windows drivers. You might want to try doing a "repair" of your operating system.

    @mikeaj I agree and what happens below about 50 hz is also important. You generally don't want full boost down at 20 hz and below. The excursion of a driver goes up with frequency below their natural resonance point to produce the same volume. So it's the deepest bass that will usually push a driver to its limits. Some drivers can be damaged as the very low mass fragile voice coil runs into the magnet structure and is physically harmed. Likewise the E10's 5 dB of boost requires over triple the output so it's also much more likely to clip at frequencies where your headphones probably can't reproduce much sound anyway. The clipping produces audible distortion for bass you can't hear anyway. It's bad design.

    @Anon, I have a e-Mu 0202 and 0404 and I plan to compare them to several newer USB pro audio interfaces some day. But, in general, I don't recommend them as they require proprietary drivers which E-Mu/Creative has largely neglected and are very buggy. I suspect the 0202 performs better than many built-in audio outputs and low end USB DACs like the Asus U3 and X-Fi Go. I'm not sure if it would beat the E10 or not. But there are much better choices for around the same price if you don't need the recording capability.

  21. Thank you for the review.
    You don't have to apologize for the delay because you are under no obligation to provide. If I were you, I'd just abandon the deadline at Wednesdays in favour of "when it's done". Most of your regular readers have probably subscribed to your web feed anyway.

  22. @akg, your comment arrived while I was composing the big one above. Audio op amps don't tend to need much more peak current than the load requires. You sometimes need to figure out the true minimum impedance of a highly reactive load and that can get complex. But, for an op amp with current limiting, you don't need more than the current limit, plus the quiescent current, plus some decent 1 uF bypass caps.

    What you may have read/heard is more likely applicable to high speed video or data buffers. They have to overcome line capacitance and maintain sharp edges (fast rise times) on signals and that takes a lot more peak current. In the world of audio, however, you would be very hard pressed to find line level or headphone level slew rates exceeding a leisurely 1V/uS. Faster high level signals just don't exist in audio sources--even SACD.

    DC-DC converters, as used in the E10 and E11, usually have hard current limiting by design (for self preservation reasons as the current otherwise may destroy the switching transistor due to inductor saturation). This is very different than a typical linear power supply as used in audio power amps. The FiiO starts to choke at about 2.1 volts peak into 32 ohms with both channels driven. That's about 65 mA peak per channel or 130 mA for both channels. For it to swing to its full +/- 4 volts into 32 ohms it would need at least 250 mA of power supply current before the rails started to significantly sag.

    The AD8397 doesn't have current limiting but it's likely to self destruct if you ask for more than 250 mA peak from each op amp section with the supply voltages in the E10. So, ultimately, a 500 mA supply would likely be enough for a better engineered E10. That's a lot higher than the FiiO supply which is apparently starting to fall on its face around 130 mA.

  23. I had this DAC/amp for about a week before returning it. I found that it didn't produce enough volume for my tastes with my HD650s; the bass boost, for me, was unusable due to its degradation of overall fidelity; and the build quality was suspect, as the headphone jack came loose from the housing after only two days. Other than that, it was OK, I guess, but certainly not good enough to overlook those problems, even at $80.

  24. It too bad about the low ENOB. Cutting off the beginning of sound could get pretty annoying too.

    In some ways it might be a bit better than the E7 but its starting to look like Fiio is slipping.

  25. @Ben, thanks for the feedback, that's good to know. You confirmed my impressions with the HD650 and the bass EQ.

    @Maverick, I agree FiiO seems to be slipping. In my opinion they're rushing too many new products to market too fast. I believe they would be better off in the long run to take more time and have fewer but higher quality products. Benchmark, for example, has done very well selling the same DAC1 that's now about 5 years old. It still sells well, and hasn't need to be replaced, because it was carefully designed in the first place.

    Companies like Benchmark, Centrance, and Grace come out with a new product (often just a refinement of earlier models) perhaps once a year. Even HRT seems to take their time. I doubt FiiO has more design resources than any of those companies (and they may have less) yet they bang out new products every few months. For some reason Asian audio companies seem to chase "new money" and the latest FOTM fads rather than have a consistent product and design philosophy.

    Growth via new products will only get you so far. A company's reputation for having good products is at least as important in the long run. Just look at the last 20 years of General Motors. They ended up with way too many similar cars and could only sell most of them, severely discounted, to rental car companies and fleets. They ended up filing for bankruptcy because they got too self confident and greedy. Now they're putting their resources into far fewer cars, the quality has improved dramatically, and they're trying to recover their very damaged reputation.

  26. COMMENTS FORMAT: Does anyone know what's up with the font and format (including line spacing) changes in the comments with Blogger? I woke up one morning, refreshed the page, and everything had changed. I've not found where I have any control over the comment formatting (unlike the articles, layout, etc.) at least within the template I'm using. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know? The new font and line spacing is harder to read.

  27. Not sure whether this is related, but the preview of the messages using the Atom feed in Google Reader is terrible - many HTML tags are being displayed as raw HTML instead of being rendered. (this may simply mean that Reader doesn't fully support Atom - I have no idea) \Greg.

  28. Would just like to point out something of interest to more technical audio sorts. Please see www.aes.org/sections/pnw for a short description of a talk on FFT analysis being given 1/28 in Redmond, Wa.

  29. Hello, great blog by the way!

    I'm pretty devoid of knowledge in terms of audio so ill just keep it simple.
    I need something to bypass the headphone jack on my laptop. I dont know if its the onboard DAC or just the jack but what comes out of the listening end is less than pleasant. very tinny sounding, and the volume abruptly cuts down when the music gets intense.

    Is this still better for use as a dac than the E7? asking because it seems you had much better things to say for it than this. I dont have anything thats hard to drive.

    Or if there is an even cheaper alternative that works for someone with low standards, please advise. I just want music to sound nicer on my laptop.

  30. Another fair and balanced review, without any of the 'Fan Boy' Fiio hyperbole of some other on-line resources.

    I bought an E10 as soon as it came out in the UK and have found it te be pretty good considering the obvious compromises that must have been made at it's price point - in certainly improved on the headphone output of my 2008 black MacBook.

    Recently however I treated myself to a wonderful pair of ACS IEMs and decided that they warranted a better investment than the £60 Fiio. Having owned and very much liked the Benchmark DAC1, I decided to go for a CEntrance DACport with the 1 Ohm modification, as I know Benchmark and CEntrance have some things in common. I even managed to get a discount on both the DACport and the modification.

    I know the DACport is about 4 times the price of the E10, but it's not silly expensive and to me, it shows the difference between a product designed at speed and to the lowest possible price, and one evolved over time and built to a standard and priced accordingly. It sounds exceptional, seems flawlessly constructed and deals with all high-res files properly.

    I just think that makers and buyers need to be more realistic about what you really get for such low prices, and if you're serious about your listening, whether making a bit more of an investment isn't actually better value in the longer term. Just remember:

    “The bitter taste of poor quality remains much longer than the sweet taste of a low price.”

  31. @Paul, I would suggest the E10 as a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade your laptop audio. If you're looking to save even more money, consider the Creative X-Fi Go for low impedance headphones or the Asus Xonar U3 for higher impedance headphones. Both are under $40 and reviewed on this blog.

    I added a paragraph to the measurements summary in the first part of the review comparing the E7 to the E10. The market has changed since I reviewed the E7 and my own standards have risen. When the E7 came out there were few affordable 24 bit USB DACs so I more readily accepted the E7's 16 bit limitation. Also, in that price range, the popular choice back then was the much more flawed and limited NuForce uDAC-2. Compared to the uDAC-2 the E7 seemed like a bargain. But times have changed and the bar is set higher.

    @Twelvebears, thanks for the DACport comparison. I completely agree some products are hastily thrown together using trendy components, made to look high-end, and rushed to market in search of quick profits. Other companies, like Centrance, take a much more holistic approach and put genuine high-end performance ahead of aesthetics and time-to-market. The quality of such products is more than skin deep and they pay a lot more attention to getting the normally hidden details correct.

    Benchmark licensed some of their USB interface technology from Centrance. I'm not sure Centrance, back then, even had their own DAC products. I haven't talked to John Siau at Benchmark lately but I have to wonder if he's a bit dismayed Centrance has become a significant competitor with the introduction of the DACmini. But competition is good.

    Not everyone can afford a DACport, or a HRT Streamer II and a good amp. And the ODA/ODAC, or ODA/O2, will cost more, not be as portable, and not be 100% USB powered. So products like the E10 still have their place.

  32. In regards to the quality control of the E10, I couldn't agree more. My first E10 had channel imbalance problems that were very severe, and the 2nd one I have now still has slight imbalance problems along with the added jack problems.

    Fiio is planning on a 3rd revision soon, which tells me, that fiio is in a rush to get as many sub par products out rather than releasing a refined and mature product.

  33. NwAvGuy wonderfull review! I have a question- you keep recomending Hrt Streamer II and DACport but you didn't publish measurements of any of these products. So on what do you base these recommendations? Maybe you can do a review (even short) on these products?

    Sorry for my English I am not English speaker...

  34. @Nathan, yeah FiiO is perhaps going the way of NuForce. That's not good.

    @Yoav, John Atkinson at Stereophile has measured the HRT and DACport on an Audio Precision analyzer. They both did well. I also have some "inside information" on both companies (both are in the USA) and have respect for the employees and their approach.

  35. Hi, NwAvGuy!
    Fine review as always.
    Had one of these units but returned it for refund as the h/phone jack became noisy and crackled every time the jack plug was moved. I understand Fiio are issuing an updated unit. Maybe this will cure the noisy socket as I did enjoy the sound from the unit.
    My first venture in this side of audio so can't really comment if it is better or worse than other units.
    Just as an aside, what do you think of Topping TP32?


  36. @Gooze, I ran a few tests on a Topping a while back and didn't bother to go further it was so bad. I don't remember the model number but it was a classic eBay silver desktop headphone DAC. I don't know if their other models are also seriously flawed, but I wasn't impressed.

  37. Right. I'll avoid it then.

    So do you think the E10 is one of the best for the price or are there better units for a similar cost?

  38. @Gooze, I'm not aware of a better 24 bit USB headphone DAC for $80 but it depends on a person's needs. If the E10 doesn't have enough output for a given pair of headphones, it's a poor choice. Likewise if you want to leave the volume on the DAC turned up and control the volume mainly at the PC it may also be a poor choice. If you only need a DAC, and not a headphone amp, there may be better options.

    One of my goals with this blog is to provide objective resources for figuring out if a given piece of gear is the best choice for a person's needs. Sometimes it's not a black and white choice but hopefully those who poke around enough here end up at least a little more informed.

  39. I found the output was quite sufficient to drive my Beyer DT770/250s with the iMac output around 80% and the E10 volume around 4-5. My only problem is if they don't fix the problem with the jack socket. I have also been looking at the CEntrance DACport but that seems a bit too expensive for me just now. Guess if Fiio up the quality then I will probably go with them again or maybe wait for you to review the E17!!

    Thanks for your help.

    Kind regards

  40. If recent history is a guide, you might want to wait until the E17 has been out a while and FiiO fixes whatever bugs the first version might have rather then end up as a beta tester. Some claim the E10 is already on its third hardware revision and I think it's only been shipping for perhaps 4 months total in the USA (ignoring when it disappeared for a few months).

  41. NwAvGuy, thank you for your E10 review and for your blog. It is a wonderful resource. I have a FiiO E9, but I need a DAC to pair it with for my PC. I'm considering the X-Fi Go ($40), the E7 ($60), or the E10 ($80). I have heard the E10 with the E9 and was very satisfied with the sound, but would like to save money where possible. Would there be much of a drop-off in quality if I were to go with the X-Fi or the E7, when used purely as a DAC? Thanks!

  42. Does using both outputs (line-out and HP-out at the same time have any effects on each other?

  43. @Clarence, of those 3, the E10 will marginally deliver the best performance and is the only one that supports 24 bit and 96 Khz operation. If you leave the volume all the way up on the PC, however, you might be hard pressed to hear much difference between the three in a blind test driving your E9. The biggest differences are their headphone output capability. Using them only as DACs they're more similar.

    @kingpage I didn't test using both outputs at once as that seems relatively unlikely for the E10. Leaving the headphones plugged in, or not, shouldn't change the line output at all as long as you're not driving low impedance headphones hard enough to make the internal power supply sag. I don't know if the line output is buffered. If it is, loading on the line output will have no effect on the headphones. If it's not buffered connecting a typical 10K or higher device may lower the headphone output level slightly but it shouldn't change the sound quality.

  44. "But if you want to control the volume at your PC, you might be better off with a 24 bit DAC that offers more dynamic range and effective bit resolution like the HRT Music Streamer II (which requires a headphone amp like the O2) or a Centrance DACport"

    The Stereophile review of the DACport says that "The DACport does not allow digital-domain adjustment of its volume". Doesn't this mean that if I want to control the volume from the PC, I shouldn't get the DACPort in any case?

    Also, I'm wondering if there's much benefit in 24bit DAC that doesn't allow changing the volume, as I think I've read about a blind test where test subjects couldn't distinguish 16bit from 24bit.

  45. I bought an E7 and its faulty so im returning it, would you say if you dont need the amp its better to get the D3 over the E10? or anyother DAC in the sub $100 price range? (i looked at the HRT but in the UK its more expensive in £ than in $!)

  46. @Anon, I've not heard the DACport disables the PC volume but I'm not 100% certain. Does anyone else know? What Stereophile might be referring to is the PC has no way to control the digital volume of the DAC itself. Nor can you adjust the volume at the DAC itself in the digital domain. But I think the PC volume control is still functional, it just works by attenuating the digital signal before it's sent to the DAC.

    Most higher-end DAC chips have 24 or 32 bit volume controls built into them. Their use typically requires a microprocessor in the DAC to send the volume commands to the DAC chip as well as some sort of user interface. So it's more common to simply attenuate the audio bitstream on the PC side, and/or have an analog volume control after the DAC chip (which has the side benefit of reducing the DAC's noise as you turn down the volume). Analog volume controls also preserve the full bit resolution.

    The 16 vs 24 bit debate is not as simple as it may seem. Sending a full 16 or a full 24 bits of data to a DAC I agree there's often no benefit to 24 bits. And that's how nearly all 16 vs 24 bit blind tests I know of were done.

    What I'm talking about isn't playing a 16 or a 24 bit file at full resolution. I'm talking about playing any sort of file and turning down the volume on your PC. In doing so you'll only be sending 12 to 15 bits out to a 16 bit DAC. If you blind compare 16 vs 24 bit DACs under those conditions (i.e. with the PC's volume at say 30%) you may well have a different outcome. I'll be doing a future article on the topic.

    @Rogan, the D3 isn't a USB DAC is it? I reviewed the D5 and was not impressed. For 24 bit capable USB DACs in the under $100 price range the E10 is the only choice I know of right now besides some highly questionable no-name DACs on eBay. The next step down from the E10 would probably be the Creative X-Fi Go Pro.

    1. cheers nwav no its not but i have optical out on my MBP/iMac, might just go e10 then cheers

  47. Review your Clip Zip already! I need a real source because my HTC Incredible 2 is a joke. I must know if I need to purchase the Clip+ or the Clip Zip.

  48. Hi,

    Just wanted to say I was holding back on the E10 until this review, and I am happy that I did. Not sure yet if I'll choose to buy it or not, but at least I can now make an informed decision.

    Thanks so much for the article (your blog was the first thing I was checking in my RSS feed for a couple of weeks now) and for all your great work!

    One question: What about the new Headstreamer? it seems cheaper and more convenient than the Music Streamer II + O2, is it maybe a viable option for a USB DAC?

    The thing is, I'm intending to use whatever I'll get mostly at work (stationary), but I hope to be able to take it with me sometimes for use with my laptop which has abysmal audio output... So DAC + amp is a less attractive solution for my purposes. Like you say, something like the E10 will always have it's place in the market.


  49. @SpacePixie, until there's a proper review of the Headstreamer with measurements, I can't recommend it. Hopefully HRT did a good job with it but it's still an unknown unless someone is aware of where it's been properly measured? The MS II has been fully reviewed.

  50. The Headstreamer looks like it could be a good alternative to the E10. Someone, please lend one to NwAvGuy. Perhaps he can be persuaded to put the HRT unit through a rigorous battery of tests.

  51. For those asking about the HRT MS II review I believe it was only in print (not online). It may have been one of the UK audio magazines. Stereophile has tested the II+ and it also measured well.

  52. NwAwGuy,

    I just read your interesting test of FiiO E10 and I'm eager to see their new designs.

    About your designs, you care by putting low-pass filters in the inputs to prevent the entry of high frequencies on the circuits, picked up by cables. Unfortunately this is not very common and they do not all designers.

    To avoid such problems some cable brands, such as DNM, which allow to include low-pass filters in their cables. The problem is the price they ask for them: 300 Pounds Sterling, about 467 U.S. Dollars.

    To see how this could be done I play with a simulator and came to a sort of basic solution with which to experiment. I put it in a forum in which I participate:


    DNM play with advantage because they can optimize the filters for your cable. I'm just an electronics repairman not a Electronics Designer, if you consider this interesting perhaps you can optimize a wire and post it on your page so your readers can have a good audio cable for a very reasonable price.

    Naturally I am also interested in such a design is not just altruism, there is also a part of selfishness.

    You could use a quality cable readily available and cheap, like some Canare, or Mogami or Belden ... or whatever you would like:


    With RCA's also quality, readily available and inexpensive. For example, the Neutrik-Rean ... or anything else that you would like:


    The problem is to optimize the whole. Well. It's just a suggestion.

    Another problematic component is usually the volume potentiometer. This page shows a circuit that is intended to help solve many of the problems of the potentiometers, if this sounds interesting to you may be able to adapt to future designs, and even to improve the current ones:


    I wish that any of this useful. Happy Days, Raúl Couto

  53. Hello NwAvGuy,

    today I go the E10. First I tried it with my headphone (B&W P5) in comparison to the head phone output of the current MacBook Pro 15".
    The P5 has a low impedance (around 30 Ohms), on the default MBP output there is a silent noise, with the E10 I hear no noise. Besides this the bass seems a bit more punchy and defined. Besides this there is not much difference.

    But I bought is as DAC only for my stereo, so I only use the line out. It will be used on a hacked tablet which is a streaming box running linux. The line-out of the E10 is far better than the cheep sound card of the tablet.

    When I connect my MBP to the stereo the difference is not huge. So I am thinking of retuning the E10 and use the Behringer UCA202 to improve line out.

    @NwAvGuy: I read somewhere that the line out delivers only 1,1V instead of the standard 2V?
    Or can you recommend me a USB sound card with a good line out or do you think the line out of the E10 is superior to the UCA202 or the Asus/Creative things you have reviewed?

  54. Nice review as always.

    Two questions:

    1. Does the line output gets muted when a headphone jack is inserted? Floating contacts would degrade over time, as I've painfully observed with a Sansui A-80 stereo speaker amplifier (one of the first models where Sansui started cutting corners in quality) bought in the early 80s, that started requiring constant cleaning and eventually, internal bypassing and the possibility of the contacts not seating correctly some times.

    2. Does the volume control and Bass EQ switch affect the line output?

    If the answers to the above are both negative, then it looks like a good candidate for a cheap, widely available external DAC with somewhat superior S/Nr performance (I can hear hiss on both speakers and headphones with an X-Fi Go on an extension cable, away from the computer's case) compared to other offerings. Might be a good option to fill in until the ODAC gets released.

  55. A nice review though i'm very eager for more news about the ODA/ODAC which I hope delivers a sweet Price / Performance point. Hopefully it'll come soon!

  56. NwAvguy, what do you think of the channel matching problems, and linearity problems facing the 2+/Pro under low-level 24-bit playback, according to the Stereophile measurements? Is it likely to have any obvious subjective effect?

  57. Lots to comment on...

    @Juan, trying to do RF filtering in cables is tricky and far from ideal. The filter needs to be right at the input jack to be effective and it's a delicate balance between rolling off the highs if its used with a relatively high imepdance source versus providing effective RF attenuation when used with a low impedance source. I suppose some sort of band aid might be better than nothing in some cases.

    @Ferongr, I don't know but I'm sure some E10 owner somewhere can answer that one. The NuForce uDAC-2 suffers from the contact problem exactly as you describe. In my sample one channel of the line out stopped working. Your second question is answered in the review. The volume works with line out but the bass EQ (and gain switch) do not.

    @Anon, I don't worry too much about linearity below -90 dB. I'm not sure about the channel matching issue. I would have to review the results again. John Atkinson is generally fairly sane in his editorial comments but sometimes there seems to be some pressure to highlight flaws of relatively inexpensive (for Stereophile) products. Keep in mind most of Stereophile's revenue is from ads for gold plated gear with four and five figure price tags. The MS II+ and Pro are fast food Super Value Meals by comparison.

  58. i have the first batch of the e10 and here are some things:
    line-out - volume is not working (that's good i guess)
    jack - holding fine all my jacks :P

  59. @NwAvGuy: Sorry to ask again: Only the quality of the line output: Do you think the line out signal is better than the Behringer UCA202 (I do not mean the headphone output)?

  60. @123Linxu, because the E10 is (barely) better than 16 bit resolution, and the UCA202 is well under 16 bit, I do believe the E10's line output has a genuine advantage. That said, if you already own a UCA202/222, and you're happy with it, the E10 might not offer much of an audible advantage. That's especially true if you're controlling the volume somewhere downstream of the DAC (rather than at the PC). But if you think you want to use a software volume control, I would strongly think about the E10 or some other DAC that supports 24 bit over USB.

  61. NwAvGuy,
    Thank you again for yet another detailed examination. Perhaps the HRT HeadStreamer is it's closest competitor. I wonder though how similar it's performance considering it is also USB powered. Only so much you can do with low voltage. I did find this foreign language review/comparo of it against the E10, here: http://logout.hu/cikk/hrt_headstreamer_teszt/hang.html

    Would you say the E10 is sufficient for the SF3/5-TF10's? Was the hiss very bad and annoying? I never really listen very quietly to music so I think it should be of little consequence. Is the E10 is good enough to mod with a better potentiometer?

  62. @FLAudioGuy, it's hard to describe how annoying hiss is. It's more likely with Super Fi's you'll notice the channel balance issues at low volume levels. A better pot might be possible but given the tiny packaging, knob arrangement, etc. I'm guessing they used a non-standard size pot.

    The output impedance of the E10 is low enough it should do a respectable job with the SF IEMs. It's hard to say for sure without doing a blind test to figure out if the E10 is sufficiently transparent.

  63. Thank you for all the tireless work. Any chance you'd measure the GrubDAC? :)

  64. @krilli, the GrubDAC is yet another TI PCM2xxx based USB DAC. The PCM270x chip used in the GrubDAC is relatively ancient technology. It can only support 16 bits and a maximum sampling rate of 48 Khz. It's also arguably marginal with respect to jitter. It's widely used because it's cheap and easy to implement, but any DAC using it is automatically at a huge disadvantage to more modern designs that support 24 bits via USB.

    So, bottom line, the GrubDAC has been made obsolete by much newer designs like the E10, HRT Music Streamer II, etc. If you're in the market for a 16 bit USB DAC, I'd strongly suggest the Creative X-Fi Go Pro, Asus Xonar U3 or Behringer UCA202 (all reviewed on this blog). They're all probably cheaper than a finished enclosed GrubDAC and they likely offer similar performance and a more portable size.

  65. I have finally received the E10. I haven't experienced any sort of delay in playback and the headphone jack is okay.

    2/8 to 3/8 on low gain is already very loud for the HM5 headphones. It's a great product, I think I like it better than E7. But, it didn't have to be this small with so few features, as it's only transportable (yet not portable). I could imagine a through-hole version of it would perform even better.

  66. Thanks for the reply!

    The GrubDAC important function: Educational value. It's a cheap kit that shows people how easy surface mount soldering really is, and amazes the builder when after a session or two of soldering they have a fully functioning USB device that sounds pretty good too.

    So in your opinion, the USB-to-I2S in the PCM2707 chip places significant limits on the WM8524 DAC they use? And that the oscillator design isn't enough to smooth over the PCM2707's weakness in the jitter department? 'Cause the intuitive understanding you get after reading about the GrubDAC is that the designers had high hopes in the oscillator design and Wolfson DAC chip, and they feel they have succeeded.

    Plus, there's an RMAA measurement result floating around that says the GrubDAC measures well. While the measurement obviously doesn't prove the GrubDAC to be objectively good, according to your criteria, the measurement can maybe be taken as an indication that it's worth measuring in-depth. Here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/445155/the-grubdac/750#post_7693768

    So in my view, an apples-to-apples test using your methodology would be very interesting, useful in increasing rigor in the DIY world, and may serve to establish proven educational material. If the GrubDAC checks out.

    (And the disproval may also be useful ...)

    Thanks for reading!!

  67. @FLAudioGuy: I wrote that E10/HeadStramer review, you mentioned. English is not my native language, but I try to sum up what I observed:
    On blind listening test (matched volume - 3 people – 30 try) nobody was able to spot any differences between the two sources. But it was only with one piece of music, and with a DT880/600 – quite easy load for an amplifier. So it doesn’t give a whole picture about the performance.
    Therefore I repeated the blind test with several piece of music, with different loads…(Alessandro MS1i, DT770/32, DT990/250, Xears XE200Pro, Vsonic GR07) but I failed every time.
    I could discern the two units only with my really hiss sensitive iems (DBA-02). On my normal listening levels the HS producted more hiss, and even more during playback.
    There was an another problem, -and I don’t know it’s the Win XP-s fault- but when I set the master volume too low, the unit goes crazy. The volume jumps back to 50% (extremely loud with iems) and the playback is ’looped’ and very distorted. (Maybe the volume controller chips fault.)
    The advantages of the HRT was:
    - the build quality
    - no channel imbalance (it even locks the left-right balance slider in Win!)
    - no problem with the jack

    - without a multimedia keyboard it’s a pain to adjust the volume
    - instability on low volume (with Win XP)
    - noticeable hiss with sensitive iems on normal listening levels, -more hiss during playack
    - the only output is the HO.
    - price

    Greetings from Hungary! :)

  68. There might be several other that I just don't know about, but I recently became aware of one alternative that would fall inbetween the E10 and HeadStreamer, price wise: the Audioengine D1.
    Specifications listed on the Audioengine site really doesn't say much, but in feature set at least it seems just as capable as the two others.


  69. @Aksel:
    Thanks for pointing out at the other Audioengine option!
    The specs says Output Impedence of 10ohms which is quite different to the E10, and means that headphones should have an impedence of 80ohm or higher for a good coupling (correct me if I'm mistaken).

  70. I also don't like this part of the FAQ (looked really professional until then):
    "Is there a recommended "break-in period" for the D1?
    Your D1 will sound great out of the box and will get better over time, however, it's best to play music for 40 to 50 hours first before doing any critical listening."

    1. I wouldn't put too much stock by that: even the best companies say silly but relatively harmless things that could help their credibility with audiophiles. Cambridge Audio is another that makes a moderately big deal about burn-in in some of their literature, but they regularly turn out very well-designed stuff if the numbers are to be believed.

    2. Honestly speaking, the 40 to 50 hours is for your brain to burn in to the signature/quirks.

  71. The Emu 0204 drivers are fine for the sort of listening you're doing, and can even work for WASAPI or ASIO with a fast enough computer or the right configuration (or you plan on not doing anything when you're listening if you don't take the time to tweak it). With just DirectSound, as all these DACs you're testing ONLY do, it's fine. The drivers are just a serious problem when using the 0204 for professional recording and looping applications, as it seems impossible to make it completely glitch free for most people. It seems absurd to spend $80 for a 16-bit directsound-capable consumer-quality DAC that has severe problems with clipping, no A/D converters at all, and no mic ins when you can get a 0204 for just a little more... and it was less than the E10 during Christmas with a discount, actually. I wouldn't review the 0202 and 0404 unless you're also reviewing the 0204, since the other two are no longer manufactured and not supported at all by Emu.

    1. I'm not going to buy at 0204 but I do already have an 0202 and 0404. I've had stability problems with the "latest" (many years old) drivers for both and I know many others have as well. I also want to be really clear the headphone output impedance of nearly all pro audio DACs is a huge problem for many people if you're expecting good sound from high quality headphones.

    2. For low impedence headphones, absolutely. The impedance on the 0204 is meant for doubling as a line out. So it can't be near zero. I'd be curious just how bad the front jack is for higher impedance cans, considering it seems nearly as good as the rear for line out. The primary purpose of these DACs though, is obviously no longer about getting a great headphone jack, anyway. Right? You've already achieved that with the O2. Even a great many dedicated amps without a DAC are inferior to your design.

    3. Because the headphone output has its own volume control I seriously doubt it's the same as the line output. E-Mu is very likely using a dedicated headphone amp for the headphone amp, it's just that they're using a seriously poor cheap headphone amp that probably costs them about $0.40.

      I agree pro audio interfaces are not primarily about high quality headphone listening. Most of the design budget goes into the recording hardware--especially the mic pre-amps, phantom power, recording level controls, level meters, etc. So, for high quality audio PLAYBACK, pro interfaces are a poor choice as playback isn't their primary function. It's like buying a tractor to drive to work. Yeah it might get you there, but it was really designed for something very different.

  72. Hi NwAvGuy,

    Following your recommendations in this thread -and rather disappointed with the specs of the FiiO E10-, I recently purchased a Centrance Dacport (0 Ohm). I had decided to upgrade my FiiO E7, but the E10 didn't strike me as a convincing option, and waiting for the E17 didn't seem to make much sense, so I took a larger step and went for the Dacport.

    I also decided to upgrade my Ultrasone Pro550, and get closer to the $1000 + headphone class (Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD800, Grado PS1000, etc.) without emptying my pockets.
    The three main options I immediately arrived to are the former champs, the AKG K701, the Beyerdynamic DT880 and the Sennheiser HD650. (The only ones I find interesting in between those price ranges are the HiFiMAN HE500 at nearly the double of the previous three.)

    I have unfortunately no option to try any of the above mentioned headphones at any store near to where I live, let alone broken in pairs. Considering the abilities of the Dacport, and the characteristics I look for in a headphone (open-back & circumaural), as well as the headphones I'm used to (my Ultrasone Pro550 and my Grado SR 125i), I would like to know if you have any recommendations regarding the mentioned trio.

    I have read your review on the HD650, and several other references as well, but I guess the qualities of the Dacport would help out figuring out the best suited pair of cans.
    I know the question is pretty far away from the specific issues of this thread, so I apologize for that.

    My sincere appreciation for your efforts put on this great blog and the always entertaining writing.

    1. Glad you liked my blog. Those are expensive headphones to buy without listening first. I would make sure they're easily returned for a full refund. My brief experience with the T1 found them painfully bright.

      I think high-end Grados are kind of a joke as most are based on the same clunky uncomfortable design as the $69 Grado but with some wood and nicer trim making them even more heavy and uncomfortable. Low end Grados are a relative bargain but I think as you move up the line there are much better options from other companies that actually have the time and money to completely re-design their higher-end headphones from scratch.

      The HD800 is a great headphone. I'm not convinced it's worth the huge price increase over the HD600/650 and I found them slightly less comfortable.

      In terms of the DACport I would have to look up the data on the other headphones. But the only issue will be peak volume levels, it should otherwise be a good match for any of them. See my More Power article for how to figure out the max SPL with each.

  73. I've been waiting for this for a long time. Decided to stay with E7 after reading. Thanks a lot for doing this review!

  74. NwAvGuy: Thank you for your advice above, regarding the x-fi go and the E10 (used solely as a DAC). I ended up returning the E10 for the x-fi go. I saved $50, and I can't tell a difference: both sources sound just as great to me feeding my E9 amplifier. Really helpful blog!

  75. NwAvGuy,

    I am currently considering buying a DAC, and I was wondering if you can help me. I am eyeing the Music Streamer II or the II+. Would there be a significant benefit in buying the II+ in technical/scientific terms? The differences I see on website are that II+ has lower noise floor(DC->30kHz) (4uV on MSII+ compared to 25uV on MSII),S/N ratio (DC-> 30kHz) (99dB on MSII and 115dB on MSII+)and finally THD+N (1kHz FS 44.1 kS/s) (0.002% on MSII and 0.0001 on MSII+)

    Thank you so much for helping!

    1. I really doubt you could tell them apart in blind listening unless you could hear the noise floor of the MSII (which is most likely to happen if you're controlling the volume at your PC and leaving the amp turned way up).

  76. @Anonymous,
    The new Senn's HD700 might close the gap between the 600/650 and 800. If you are in the market for such headphones it might be worth your while holding up a little bit.

  77. @Willaka, even so, still not that good with output impedance of 10ohms.

  78. I was the customer who got the response from FiiO about the delay beore amplifying the DAC's output. I was initially very excited about the E10 because of how great of a deal it seemed at $80, but once I noticed the design issue--and was told outright that it was knowingly designed into the device I questioned FiiO's motives. Perhaps the issue isn't a major one for most users, but in my usage it was very obvious.

    They claimed they couldn't fix the delay because they weren't the integrated circuit chip designers, but common sense led me to ask why use those particular chips in a circuit together if you had to mutilate the audio signal you're sending through--the purpose of an external DAC is to improve sound quality. I wondered if FiiO created the E10 as a product that would look great on paper but could be manufactured as cheaply as possible with little concern for quality. There was a lot of hype about how great the E10 was going to be, and I imagine the pre-orders for it were huge considering how long it took FiiO to ship.

    1. I do agree FiiO appears to be cutting some corners and/or rushing some of their products to market. Some of the issues have been hard to excuse like the E11 only being able to run from battery power and being unusable while it's charging. It's also odd the E10 has already had two or three hardware revisions with big gaps in availability. There's no question that some manufactures are trying to make a "quick buck" however they can. FiiO is at least better than many of the no-name products sold mainly on eBay.

      In FiiO's defense most DACs have some mute delay. It's there to prevent an obvious "TICK" every time you send a signal to an idle DAC. How long the delay is depends on the chips used and/or how conservative the designer wants to be at avoiding an obvious tick under all conditions.

      Also in FiiO's defense, there are only a few reasonably priced USB interface chips capable of 24/96 without needing proprietary Windows drivers and one of them is flagged obsolete and not suitable for new designs (the chip used in the HRT MS II). There are also a limited number of DAC chips that are reasonably priced, have decent performance, and pair up well with the few USB chips without adding a microprocessor to handle configuration issues on the fly. So the pickings are fairly slim in a product designed to retail under $100.

    2. Why is the USB interface chip in the MusicStreamer II considered obsolete?

    3. Texas Instruments has designated the chip "not suitable for new designs" meaning they're not going to keep making it much longer. In the electronics biz we call it "EOL" for "End Of Life". As a rule, chip companies only keep producing chips as long as they can sell enough of them to make a significant profit. The USB chip in the HRT products is relatively old. I suspect HRT probably has, or will, order what they envision to be a "lifetime" supply but that's difficult to do cost effectively with a new product (like the ODAC) when you don't know what the sales volumes will be.

  79. Hi!
    Just to throw a few extra vegetables into the stew!
    After sending the E10 back due to the jack problems I found one seller on Amazon UK selling the E17 which I now have in my grubby little hand! It does the biz! The annoying clicking between tracks is gone and the h/phone jack is so tight I'm wary of removing the phones [Beyer DT770/250s] and try the Grado 225s that have been around for about three years.
    If you do get around to reviewing the E17 I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Wider headroom, fuller sound and more things to play with. Adjustable Bass, Treble, Gain and Balance.

  80. @juman231: I want to connect a self build streaming Linux streaming device to my stereo, so I searched for a good soundcard/DAC. First I bought the E10. Then I bought the Music Streamer II because I was not totally happy with the E10. Right now I just finished a comparision between line out of E10 vs MS II:
    - The line output on the MS II is louder (nwavguy measured on the E10 1,65 V)
    - The sound detail on the MS II is better, it is a lot more detailed, on the E10 it sounds a liitle bit muffled, especially with complex overlay of music and voice like Apocalyptica

    Then I did a comparison with some loseless ripped CDs on the MS II vs. the same CD on my CD Player and integrated DAC from the B&O BeoSound 4. MSII vs CD: it sounds the same, with E10 there is a big difference in clearity and detail.

    Conclusion: I keep the MS II and I return the E10. Regarding head phone amp I will either modify the UCA202 or test ESI Dr. Dac nano. The channel balance problem on the E10 head phone output is driving me nuts, I have also problems with the jack.
    I did not hear the MS II+ yet, but did not notice any noise.

  81. Hi, On some of your older reviews, you did most of your measurements at 400mV. (Except for the obvious, THD+N vs output graph). It looks like here you are measuring at higher output. For example, the THD+N vs FREQUENCY into 32ohm was done at 1.38V. Wouldn't that make the N portion of THD+N much smaller? Looking at the first graph THD+N vs OUTPUT, at 400mV, THD+N looks around 0.01 in low gain. Higher than 0.004 quoted for most measurements.

    Shouldn't all the THD+N measurements be done at a nominal output to compare between amps? If @ 400mV, the THD+N for this amp is around 0.01, it seems like less of a difference between the E10 and the E7 which was at around 0.03 for most of the DAC+amp measurements.

    1. Jeff, it's tough to pick a single standard. A typical portable player can't manage much more than 500 mV of output so that's why I started testing at 400 mV. But home gear is generally capable of 2 V or even more output which is 14 dB higher than 400 mV.

      With recent tests I've tried to split the difference where applicable and either use 0 dBV (1 volt) or 0 dBu (0.775 volts) which are both industry standard levels.

      I also try to comment in my reviews on THD vs noise (the "+N") where applicable. When the measurement is dominated by the noise floor I try to point that out. But often, especially at higher levels and/or into more challenging loads, the measurement is dominated by mainly distortion.

      Finally, where applicable, I've tried to adjust my earlier measurements to be more comparable with my current ones in my comparison tables--especially with respect to noise.

      I agree it's not good to use different standards for different products and reviews. For quite a while now I've been using 0 dBu and 0 dBv as reference levels whenever possible and will continue to do so. But for those products that can't manage even 0 dBu, I have no choice but to test at a lower level.

  82. Since it seems that the ODA/ODAC won't be available in assembled form for at least several months, I wonder what you think of combining the Fiio E10 as dac (which I already own) with the O2 amp?

    Thanks for all you do!

    1. If your E10 has enough power for your headphones you probably don't even need to the O2.

    2. Thanks!

      Interesting, as I would have been lead to believe your O2 design would be a significantly superior sounding amp to the Fiio E10, regardless of the adequacy of power available. But, maybe that is not necessarily the case.

  83. Hi NwAvGuy!

    I'm going to upgrade my onboard Realtek, but I'm a little confused. My budget is 80u$s approximately, and I want it for listening music and a little of gaming. I researched in the web and Fiio E10 and Xonar DX seems to be the better option. What would you recommend?
    I have a Sennheiser HD202 and I don't need recording features.

    Thanks for the blog, it's great!

    PD: sorry for the crappy english :S

  84. I don't like soundcards much but for gaming a Xonar might have some advantages. If you plan to play games with 3D effects you might want to look at sound cards with suitable 3D support (something the FiiO lacks). Your headphones should be a fairly easy load.

  85. But in terms of sound quality, are they similar? I prefer a better quality when I listen music rather than 3D effects in gaming.
    Also, the E10 come with a Brainwavz Beta as a gift.

    Thanks for your quick response!

  86. @guille8: the Xonar may have very high (100 Ohm) output impedance. So, if that is the case, it is not ideal for driving most headphones. Other than that, it is good in terms of DAC performance.

  87. Hi NwAvGuy!

    Firstly, great blog! I'm current in 3rd year university of EE, so reading your technical posts are very interesting and educational given they apply to what I've been learning in terms of analogue electronics.

    After reading your review of E10, I decided to get one based on its avalibility in Canada and the price. These drove my Grado 80s without of problem and was a good step up from my 2008 Macbook sound.

    I just received my pair of Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro (250) this week. I am wondering if I should get an amp to fully drive this. I am not hearing much improvement between macbook out and E10 out...maybe there needs to be a break in period but I feel the E10's amp portion is having a little difficulty with beyers. Any feedback on buying an amp or not would be appreciated!


    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "having a little difficulty". The Beyers are an easy load for the E10 so it really comes down to if it can make them play loud enough for your tastes. If the E10 is clipping on peaks you'll hear more distortion and the sound will be more harsh. There really are not many reasonably priced portable amps that have much more output than the E10 except for the O2 as SpacePixie below suggests.

      For just desktop use the FiiO E9 would have enough output but it has other problems (see my E9 review).

      If they're already playing plenty loud enough for your tastes a more powerful amp isn't going to help the sound any. It might be you prefer your Grados over the DT880. They're not going to change much with break-in despite what you may have read but it is possible you'll like them more after you get more used to them. The HD650 was that way for me. On first listen I wasn't that impressed but they really grew on me.

    2. How About HD650 and FiiO E10 combo? Can Fiio E10 drive HD650 properly? Or Fiio E10 need additional amp like 02?

      Many people said HD650 won't sound right unless giving proper amp(expensive amp) like GS Solo, or GS Solo ultra linear. Is this myth or fact?

    3. As this review makes clear, the E10 is on the edge of having enough output for the HD650. The HD650's don't need an expensive amp, they just need one that performs well. You might want to read the first O2 article (or at least the first part of it that talks about the design goals, how it compares to other amps, etc.).

  88. An o2 amp should sort your dt880 nicely!

  89. Im on a budget and wonder if the E10 is a better choice to Behringer UCA202

    1. Yes the E10 is better but the UCA202 may still be "good enough" if you just need line out. The E10 is 24 bit and has lower noise than the UCA202 (about 98 dB vs 94 dB). The measurements are compared in the table in the article above in the first part of the review.

    2. Thx, in fact i'm more into dac thing since i already have a light moded tube headphone amp so only the dac part interest me. might have better solution to the E 10 ? I fear that e10> tube amp goes into double amping thing,i might be wrong and be better off with the e10 amp alone.

    3. The E10 alone driving your headphones will deliver more accurate and honest sound than through your tube amp. Tube amps have lots more distortion (and often audible noise). But it's possible your tube amp may alter the sound in ways you prefer with your particular headphones and tastes. The E10 has a line out so you're not double amping.

    4. After reading more and more your blog i have to say, wow You did a great job.
      Reading about the o2amp and the ODAC seem to be a better solution to me than E10.
      Is there a place i can get a hold of the ODAC or O2DAC combo yet ?

    5. After reading more and more your blog i have to say, wow. You did a great job.
      Reading about the o2amp and the ODAC seem to be a better solution to me than E10.
      Is there a place i can get a hold of the ODAC or O2DAC combo yet ?

  90. Will I have the balance problems(or any other) using the E10 with my Shures SRH-440?
    Sensitivity: 105 dB dB/mW
    Impedance: 44 Ohms

    1. Any of the full size Shures should be OK. You may have problems, however, with their IEMs.

  91. Greetings once again, NwAvGuy!

    I hope you will forgive me for posting an O2 comment on this particular (DAC oriented) blog. I've experienced a lifetime's worth of trouble suppressing exclamations of joy.

    Using my JDS obtained O2, 4G iPod Touch and Grado SR-60s, I am convinced I heard music indistinguishable from live music on more than a single occasion in the recent past. I can't say that about every music file I have on my iPod and I acknowledge that I am not a music 'expert' of any sort. All I can lay claim to regarding any notion of personal 'credentials' is tied to 40+ years of heartfelt listening.

    I can say that such sonic experiences never happened to me prior to my acquisition of the 02. Even those who claim, perhaps with some validity, that the Grados are playing the lead role, must acknowledge then that it is the 02's sonic invisibility that is allowing the Grados to reach their zenith of performance.

    My thanks again to you and to Mr. Seaber. It's been a revelatory blast.


    1. Thanks for the comments and glad you like it! The SR-60 is a bargain and you're perhaps evidence the somewhat high output impedance of the iPod touch really is more of a problem than many want to admit. You're also evidence the DAC in iTouch 4G is a lot better than many realize. Feel free to also post your comments on the O2 Amplifier article where they would be most appropriate.

  92. Hello NwAvGuy,
    thanks for the great review. I am owner of senn HD 380 PRO and E10. The headphones are loud for me at low gain and about 1.5 of volume. So I decided to decrease digital volume, but not in win xp (there is 100%) but in foobar2000. I lowered volume of -20dB so E10 vol is about 3. I use 24-bit output mode. My question is if lowering volume in foobar at 24-bit output mode decreases the quality of music - its always 16/44.1 FLAC. I do not use resampling. It sounds much better now than before with full volume and 16-bit output.
    Thanks, Peter

  93. Hi NwAvGuy. Your work is impressive... not only in this review, I'm a new reader of your blog and I've been reading about reviews, comments, the new ODAC, and so on... I repeat: impressive. Thank you very much for sharing it all with us.

    The only problem for me Is that I'm an audio-gd NFB-2 DAC and a Fiio e10 owner. After reading your blog It's a catastrophe for me, nobody told me as clear as you about audio-gd gear quality ("snake-oil" you said) and I bought recently the e10 as an acceptable 24 bit DAC...fail again!
    I think I'm an "Head-fi victim"... please, in your words (others than "snake-oil") what I bought with my NFB-2? Is it so bad?
    In this moment I'm about to send NFB-2 and E10 in a boat to China and forget them forever!!
    I guess it would have been better for me to save my money in the past and wait for your new ODAC. After readings I think ODAC will be better product and more honest!
    By the way, what about the ODAC status? after all I'm very interested in it (all mounted) please if you can, tell me in your opinion if it is a good solution for me (my actual rig is: cans > Grado 325is, amp > Musical Fidelity X-CAN v8p, and as I said, Audio-gd NFB-2 DAC).
    Thank you very much, again...

    (Sorry but my English is not very good)

  94. @Zine, the E10 is a decent product if it has enough power for your headphones--which it does for Grados. I would just use the E10 and sell the half-baked Audio-GD. I don't know about the X-CAN.

    Audio-GD products are based on some seriously flawed engineering. The designer thinks (or claims) Negative FeedBack (NFB) is bad, but it's not. That's been demonstrated in a great many ways including blind listening tests. For example, I talk about in the Tech Section of my What We Hear article about a guy who strung many IC op-amp buffers together and blind compared them to a piece of wire. Even six of them connected one after the other didn't make any detectable change to the sound. And each of them is using massive amounts of NFB. Audio-GD not only claims NFB is bad, they claim op amp ICs are also bad. But their own "discrete op amps" perform horribly--this was shown in detail by a paper by Samuel Groenig--he tested two of Audio-GD's designs. The were both very poor.

  95. Hi again NwAvGuy, first at all, thank you for your quickly answer.

    As a comment, I think that "high-fidelity" is just this: "fidelity" to the original sound/music, in other words, the achieve of a system should be only make a transparent transport of a input to get a reproduction of the sound at the output equal to the original . I suppose that It is not easy but I think that all esoteric impressions about a rig can be avoided using science, simplifiying: taking a wave in the input and testing the output to get the same result... then, a better rig gets more accurate results. And this can be measured!. Where are published this tests ? Who has the authority to take samples and objectively judge any audio system? I think that a lot of the hi-fi market has the intention to hide these results, because super-expensive equipment don't get superior quality (or, sometimes, is flawed like you say about audio-gd) I bought my rig without any objective testing (It's my fault) and It's hard to find sites, like your blog, with this kind of information.

    Back to my problem with audio-gd, and abusing your kindness, I wanted to ask advice on a dac with optical input (I need a at least one entry of this type) for my home rig. I'm from Spain and most popular models available to me (I prefer a Benchmark DAC1, but is very expensive for me) are: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, the new Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100, Arcam rDAC, do you have any good impression with these options? Or any other option that you have in mind (I've been reading in your blog about Music Streamer, Dacport,... but it's no solution for me)

    For my listenings at my job I guess the ODAC will be the option.

    Thank you very much again for your time!.

  96. @Zine, I haven't tested any of those three but I would favor the DacMagic 100. Cambridge Audio has the best track record of those three companies for solid engineering and a minimum of snake oil. The old DacMagic performed well and the new is likely even better.

  97. Hi,

    I am looking into upgrading my laptop's (Dell XPS M1530) sound card (SigmaTel STAC9228X with IDT audio codec). I am listening to music via Sennheiser HD25 1-II and Panasonic RP-HJE900 in ear phones. I was going to place an order in Amazon UK for Creative X-fi Pro Go!, but after reading your reviews left a bit confused which sound card would be the best option for my set-up. I know Sennheisers have 70ohm impedance and Panasonics 32 or 26 I am not sure. I do some gaming, watch some movies and listen to lots of music. Any help is much appreciated thanks in advance :)

  98. @anon, if you don't mind paying a bit more the E10 would be a significant step up from X-Fi Go Pro. Otherwise I would choose the Go or possibly U3.

    1. Thank you very much for such a quick answer. I have been browsing forums when you recommended E10 as a significant upgrade from X-Fi, I found E17 on Amazon for £104. Price will not come down for a while now I guess, so I grabded while it's still hot. Most reviews suggested it's better than E10 and does not suffer from issues E10 had. It will also work as a headphone amp for my iPhone 4 as it's really too weak for HD25. I will be looking forward to see your review on E17. :)

  99. Hi NwAvGuy,

    I am knew to reading your work, as of a couple of weeks ago, and I cannot stop reading. I know you are very well respected everywhere, because I see your name come up in other areas and blogs referenced as "If he says it, take it to the bank" basically. Thanks for sharing everything with us!
    I just have a simple question. I have Senn HD 598's, and after reading your reviews I decided to wait for the Fiio e17. I ordered it off of the US Amazon last night finally!!! (I have been anxiously waiting) I will be receiving it tomorrow. Do you plan to review the e17? Also, how far off can I look forward to reading the review, as I am sure you are quite busy, if you are in fact planning to review it?

    Thank you again!!!

  100. @BArrieta, it's good to know Amazon finally has the E17 in stock. Thanks. It's likely I'll eventually review the E17 but it won't be in the next 30 days as I have higher priorities for at least the next several weeks. Odds are, being their flagship product, the E17 performs at least as well as the E10 and should have enough power the HD598.

  101. NwAvGuy,

    I thought that I would pass this along for your readers wanting to purchase the e17. The way I found it on Amazon was by accident. If you search fiio e17 nothing comes up, just the e10 etc. However, if you put a space between the e and 17 "fiio e 17" then a single vendor pops up, and I believe as of this morning he had 17 left in stock. I just received mine, and I am about to tear into the box! Thanks again and I look forward to your review!!!
    I also have a question about my HD 598's, but I will ask it on your HD 650 blog.

  102. Hi NwAvGuy,

    After reading this review and your review of the audio on the Macbook Air, which you said has very impressive audio performance, do you think it's worth it to buy the E10 to pair with the Air? My technical understanding of audio measurements are limited, but it seems like your answer would be "no".

    Also, I recently bought the D2000, but after reading your review of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80, it seems that you would recommend that I return it and get the 770 instead, correct? I got the Denons on sale for ~$200 so it wouldn't be much of a price difference. I don't need to do any studio work, just looking for an enjoyable and comfortable sounding set of cans that works well with great vocals, hip hop, and classical.

    Thanks and keep up the great work! Your articles are very informative and it's great that you keep them unbiased.

    1. You're correct. If you don't hear any noise when your MacBook is plugged in and charging the battery the E10 won't be an upgrade. And if you like the D2000 I'd stay with them. I still use mine as they're more accurate and revealing than the DT770. My main complaints with the D2000 is they're less forgiving of harsh recordings, they're less comfortable for long term wear, and the cable is too stiff. But, on well recorded music they overall deliver better sound. They're also more compatible with portable gear.

  103. So your saying if i want an amp that can be carried around and used with a cellphone or any portable device this is not the amp for me ? i wanted an amp that could be used as my sound card when i am around the computer and an amp when i go out, which amp you think would suit my needs ( budget under $100).
    also sorry about your headfi ban,the guys at headfi ban many people for stating the truth, they love their sponsors money more than the members.

    1. The E10 is only a DAC, not an amp to use with a portable player. If you want both you need an E7 or E17 (or an E10 + E11/E5/E6).

  104. Although the review is mostly objective, the measurements actually coincide pretty well with the listening. The review is pretty spot on!

  105. Which one do you think is a better investment, I'm using it 70% on my laptop through Edifier S330 Speakers and 30% on iPhone or Ipad. I can make do without iPhone or Ipad if the SQ of E10 is way better than E7. So which one should I buy E10 or E7, I still can't decide myself after reading reviews and watching videos for the past 4 hours. Please help. TQ

  106. Hi NwAvGuy,
    I had the E10 but I send mine back to amazon because I can feel electricity when I touch mine when it was connected to the notebook (with power supply) or to desktop pc. The only mode that don't leaks electricity is when i plug to notebook with battery only. Is this a problem of all e10 on account of ground loop as u said in ur article or in your opinion it was mine to be broken?
    Can u suggest me some other dac amp till 150€
    Thank you

  107. No, it's your PC/notebook or perhaps even your AC power outlet(s) that are the problem. The E10 is USB powered, and because it's metal, you can feel any AC leakage from the PC's ground. All desktop PC's should have a 3 prong grounded power cord (by law). If your does, do you have it plugged into some sort of 2 prong outlet or extension cord? Some laptops use 2 prong (non-grounded) power supplies and some do have some leakage but it should be within legal safety limits.

    Any USB powered device with a grounded metal case will expose computer leakage. It's not the fault of the E10.


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