Friday, 5 April 2013

Fireye Mini Review

Fireye Mini Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

First impressions:  What an unusual picture on the front, the packaging is actually somewhat odd too.  Not odd in a bad way, I think I’m just so used to things from mainland China that you forget Taiwan seems more like South Korea or Japan.  The packaging is that unbleached, natural yet premium feeling card.  It’s nice stuff.  Opening up and looking at the little amp itself I’m not sure what to make of it.  It’s purple, rubbery and it seems it has no solid casing.  So can you swap the rubber coverings then?  Firing the thing up and the led in it glows fiercely, lighting up the internals somewhat.  I rather like that.  Not sure I love the no on off switch so you have to unplug to power it down. 

Flicking over to listening, going by their website they clearly think you’ll be using a phone as the source so I’m trying the same.  I couldn’t decide on an IEM so jumping right to the HD600 and they do it not bad.  Actually it’s a lot better than not bad.  Flicking between using the amp and just the phone the difference is really, really noticeable.  Strangely there doesn’t seem to be much volume boost but they are clearly letting the HD600 stretch its legs more.  Here was me thinking this was going to be a new FiiO E3 but it’s clearly not.

Source:  Predominantly a Galaxy Nexus.

Lows:  I’m reminded a touch of the old Icon Mobile I have floating about.  The low end here isn’t going where I thought it would be and challenging the FiiO’s.  I’d thought seeing as there was no on off that this would be a new E3.  For those that recall the E3 had an always on bass boost and it’s clear that the Fireye Mini doesn’t.  In short it’s adding nothing to the bass quantity save any that being better driven does for the headphone.  So this is likely not much.  It does bump up the quality and definition rather as there is clearly more power.  Driving the big beastly HD600 off my phone shows just how lacking the phones little amp is.  It can’t compare, the lows are soft, woolly and just too slow.  The HD600 is a great headphone and the little Mini cleans that low end up big time.  It’s still not driving it to its best but it’s a really noticeable improve meant when you A/B them.  The differences you see will of course be variable on your source and on your headphone.  Use a source with a great amp in it or with just terrible sound quality then you’ll not likely see any improvement.

Mids:  They are again slightly reminiscent of the icon mobile in that they seem to be pulling a touch to the airy, open and a bit light sounding.  It’s really not adding a vast amount in the way of flavouring though.  It’s going to depend on the source and the headphone again and how much this matters.  For the big HD600 this added nicely to them as they are often thought of being a bit veiled but bit the ER4-S it made thin feel a bit soulless.  Many might describe them as soulless anyway so take it for what you will.   The overriding impression I’m getting is that they do a really lovey job of pulling that bit extra from your headphones. 

Highs:  They could be said to adding a bit to the highs but I’m not sure they are.  They do feel a little light tonally but I don’t believe they are adding a lot.  They just pull out that bit that otherwise wouldn’t be extracted by the lack of available power.  With the HD600 it was a vast improvement over the phone itself but with the ER4-S the quantity of the treble didn’t seem increased.  The quality did get better but then the ER4 gets good enough to start looking at the source and that I’m only using 320k mp3 streams that it becomes hard to start telling what is playing what part.  Still I’m pretty impressed that such a little and cheap amp sounds so clean.  The FiiO’s where never about being clean and pure, they were about driving hard to run things and slapping a little bass boost.  These are clearly purer in the highs.

In The Hand:  It’s a little rubbery blob.  I think I would prefer if it was hard cased but the stuff inside the rubber seems firm enough.  I wasn’t going to squeeze it until it failed to find out if I could make it fail. 

Build Quality:  I believe it’s firmly put together and if it wasn’t for examining it I could have been fooled into thinking there was a case under there.  Still I just don’t like the idea regardless of the reality that it seems solid.

Power:  As I mentioned these didn’t seem to be adding lots of volume so if you’re after deafening levels then this isn’t probably what you want.  But….. when it comes to driving power  its really good,  it can make the big and beastly HD600 come to life.  It means that despite it running rather high on my phones volume that they sound good and they can run them loud without sounding like the amp is straining.

Transparency:  Really lovely, for something so cheap I’d have expected a little more veil and thickness (which seems a rather popular sound style in the Far East.)  These strike me as very neutral and very transparent.

Value:  Well depends what you’re wanting from them.  If your one of those people that insist on using a phone a source, maybe a warm one like the Iphone then this would likely be of lot of benefit if you have something hard to drive. 

Conclusion:  If I am really honest I’m not sure what I’d do with one of these normally.  It has a lanyard attachment so should I wear it round my neck and use headphones with a modular cable?  It being rubbery I don’t want to put it in my pocket as it’s a lint magnet.  The E5 at least gave you a shirt clip on it.  So hmmmm, yeah I’m not going to use one normally.  Now to ignore that as they may not be issues for you and to focus on the audio.

Sound wise it’s a little gem.  In today’s world we all have DAP’s but most of them are a bit meh when it comes to sound out as it’s just not a key feature.  My phone, the Galaxy Nexus is reasonable for a phone but it can’t drive things like the HD600, they just sound so meh when paired.  Granted I’m really taking it to the extreme as most IEM’s aren’t terrible to drive.  Many also don’t improve that much when driven well so it’s all going to depend what you have at either end of your audio chain.  What I can tell you is that the little amp in the Mini is a joy.  It’s really able to pull out so much more from the lows and highs on things that benefit from amping.  I was really impressed with what it could do for the HD600.  Even on more standard IEM’s like the GR06 they showed real improvement (particularly with added impedance.)   Actually the GR06 was a really good pairing as it’s a bit warm, bit thick and the Fireye Mini likes to make things a bit more open and transparent.  It was a really lovely combo. 

(N.B. I have been using the Mini with an Ipad 2 and the energetic little amp is a superbly complimentary sound for the warmish Idevices.  A really excellent pairing.)

The problem is the competition, I don’t have an E6 but I have an E5 and this is clearly better but the E5 has volume control and a bass boost option, oh and its cheaper (well the 6 is.) for many the appeal of a cheap little amp is that bass boost and this doesn’t.  Still if you have something warm, say a warm phone (like an iphone) and a warm IEM (like the GR06) then this would be the ideal little amp if you’re going to add one.  It’s fun.

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