By April 22, 2009

FiiO headphone amplifier review

I liked my Cardo Scala Q2 bluetooth headsets but could never get the volume loud enough with external speakers. I also had a terrible time getting the auxiliary volume up to a reasonable level, because the 3.5mm jack in the dock wasn’t powered by the headset like the other channels were.

I started researching headphone amplifiers, and found that the products quickly fell into two camps: gimongous amplifiers powered by AC power / more batteries than a North Korean bathtub submarine or tiny portable amplifiers that offered less power but more portability. Adding to the decision making problem was the scarcity of information on the Internet, and/or that the best smaller amps cost almost as much as I paid for the Scalas in the first place.

My memory is fuzzy at this point, but I jumped on eBay trying to find a less-expensive source for one of the more popular amps on ADVrider.com when I stumbled up on the FiiO headphone amplifier. I am pretty sure I was reading about the previous generation that ran off of two AA batteries.

I put in an order from a (extremely reputable, I’m sure) seller in Hong Kong and waited for the awesome power to arrive.

The FiiO Rev.2 arrived in pretty rapid fashion. I was impressed; it beat another HK order I’d placed a week earlier. The packaging looked legitimate, and I was impressed by the quality of the unit and the accessories:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/6365-2/CRW_8398.jpg

Now, what was cool about the Rev. 2 model of the FiiO is that it had an internal rechargeable battery, powered by an included USB-to-mini-USB adapter. The other accessory you see is a male-to-male 3.5mm headphone cord. I didn’t need it because the Scala Q2 had one, but it was nice anyway. The instruction manual isn’t necessary, but was a cute touch. It’s pretty readable, too.

The unit is depicted as iPod Shuffle Rev. 2-shaped, but it is quite a bit larger than the originating Apple form factor. There is a nifty clip on the back, though. The SD card is included for size reference.

Operation is dead simple. You plug the mini-USB end here on the left-hand side to charge it up:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/6369-2/CRW_8400.jpg

and when the blue light is done blinking the unit is fully charged.

Flip the unit over and plug your headphone cord into this hole:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/6367-2/CRW_8399.jpg

From left to right: hold key (prevents other keys from activating), power key, and volume adjuster (left side volume down, right side volume up). The power LED indicator is slightly above the hold key and is pretty damn bright.

The clip is strong enough to hold onto my Rev’It Cayenne Pro jacket at highway speeds, but after that little experiment I kept it in my chest pocket.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the product doesn’t work. At least, not to the levels that I need it to on a motorcycle. Inside my home, with my Etymotic Research ER6i Earphones deeply inserted into my brain, I noticed a slight increase in volume when the amplifier was turned on. It made no discernible difference at any speed greater than 20MPH on the bike.

I realized that at $19 shipped I was taking a gamble, but I’ve bought enough low-dollar, off-brand shit on eBay, Woot!, or whatever that sometimes you get lucky. This time I didn’t. The FiiO headphone amplifier was not up to the task of boosting my MP3 player to a serviceable volume on my motorcycle.

Not recommended.

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1 Comment on "FiiO headphone amplifier review"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    You’ll find something here that will allow you to increase volume.
    http://www.aerostich.com/catalog/US/Mixers-and-Amps-p-1-c-431.html

    Personally, I use a CMoy but only to drive my big rig headphones. I’ve never needed it on the motorcycle.