First off, I’d like to thank the folks at Firestone Audio for sending me a sample of the Fireye Mini+ for review.
Second in our amplifier round up is the Fireye Mini+, an improved version of the original Fireye Mini, a charming little portable amplifier in the vein of the Fiio E3. In the improved version, we have an amplifier that’s similar in size to the Fiio E6 (but even smaller) that also includes a bass boost feature.
Read on for my full review of the Fireye Mini+ portable amplifier.
The Fireye Mini+ comes with a 4-pole 3.5mm interconnect (more on that soon), a set of stickers (seriously) a metal faceplate to place on the amp and a mini (not micro) USB charging cable.
Design and Build Quality
The Fireye Mini+ is one of the smallest portable amplifiers I’ve come across. The little square amplifier is smaller than the Fiio E6 and feels very solidly built, more so than the Fiio E6 due to its stronger plastics. There are no physical controls beyond the bass boost switch meaning no volume control or power switch. Instead, the Mini+ powers on and off automatically when headphones are plugged in or removed.
Remember that 4-pole interconnect I mentioned above? Well that actually brings to light one of the more interesting features of the Mini+. Connected to a device that supports 1 or 3 button remotes like, say, an iPhone will allow for those remotes to retain their functionality. This is the first amplifier I’ve heard of that has the ability to work as a remote pass-through of sorts to allow volume and playback controls and microphone to function as they would if they were plugged straight into the phone. For a portable amplifier, this is a rather ingenious feature that I’m surprised hasn’t turned up in more portable amplifiers and really makes the Mini+ even more unobtrusive, especially since it doesn’t have its own volume controls.
Using the Mini+ with my XBA-3IP and iPhone 4S yielded no compromises in sound quality while being even easier to use than the Fiio E6, due to my ability to control the volume and switch songs without reaching into my pocket.
Gain and Hiss
As mentioned prior, the Fireye Mini+ doesn’t feature its own dedicated volume control and thus relies on the source to control the volume. This unfortunately means it can’t be used with a line level output from an iPod or iPhone but I found it to be a non-issue for the most part.
The Mini+ features a relatively low gain for an amplifier and is thus not well suited to particularly hard to drive earphones or headphones. That said, I felt the Mini+ provided a good enough boost over my audio players by themselves to justify its use.
The Fireye Mini+ is rated for 12 hours of battery life and to my estimates, that 12 hour figure is accurate.
This is where things get interesting. While most headphone amps at this price have some rather obvious hissing, the Mini+ is almost totally silent. I did hear some minor clicks and pops on occasion but they were so infrequent that they were a practically a non-issue
The Fireye Mini has a very clean and inoffensive sound. Though the sound is a tad warm, it’s more audibly transparent than the similarly priced (but cheaper) Fiio E6. Even scaling up to the Fiio E11, the Fireye Mini+ is less warm and slightly cleaner sounding due to the lack of hiss. But, I can’t deny that the other two amps are more suited to driving difficult loads because of their higher gain and dedicated volume controls. Nonetheless, if I were to pick one of the three to take with me, the Mini+ would be it.
The Mini+ features a bass boost feature which I actually enjoy quite a bit. Beyond my preferences for big bass, the Mini+ has a very clean implementation of bass boost, offering a sensible 3 dB increase centered on 130Hz. The result is a somewhat subtle but more controlled boost than any of the Fiio amplifiers can provide except maybe the E5. Though the boost isn’t as strong as some might like, I found it to be quite enjoyable with bass neutral earphones like the HiFiMan RE-400 and the Phonak PFE 121.
The Fireye Mini+ will be available soon and will likely retail for around $40 and at that price, it’s more expensive than the Fiio E6 but I’d rather carry it around than the Fiio amplifier, despite its lack of line out support (unless you enjoy destroying your eardrums) and dedicated volume control. Its bass boost is, though subtle, arguably better implemented and more natural sounding.
Simply put, the Mini+ is a very solid portable amplifier for the price and one that I think punches above its weight. With its unique remote pass-through feature and a sensible bass boost couples with decent driving power (albeit low gain) and very little noise and hiss, the Mini+ is an easy recommendation for its asking price.