The Upgrade: Fiio E17 “Alpen”

fiio_e17_10
E17 versus the Ibasso D-Zero

Built and dimensions wise, I like the D-Zero better. It’s smaller, slimmer, uses fully analog controls, and is lighter. However, when it comes to the sound, again I’m for the Fiio’s warmer, fuller sounding sound. For more details on the D-Zero comparison, you can look at the D-Zero review, where I compared it to the E10 (think of the E17 as a supercharged E10).

E17 versus the E11

We’re talking strictly amplifiers here, and I have to conclude that the E11 is the better amplifier. More ample power, smoother, more refined. The E11 has much more depth in the soundstage though the width is slightly narrower. But everytime you have to choose between depth and width, it’s always the depth because that’s what gives you three dimensionality. Well anyway remember that the E11 is an amplifier only unit, no DAC.

E17 versus E6

No question here, the E17 is the better amplifier by quite a margin.

E17 versus Digizoid ZO2

(quoted from one of my comments)

There have been many questions asked about the Digizoid Zo vs <insert a portable amplifier here>, and the fact is that it’s hard for me to make that comparison. If I was talking about two portable amps, I can make comments about one being dark, having wider soundstage, more bass, etc. But the selling point of the Zo, I believe is the SoundVektor and the adjustable contours, both of which are not available in any portable amps I know. The SoundVektor works and so is the adjustable contours.

On the other hand, if I was talking purely amplifier performance, surely something like the Alpen is simply better. You get better detail level, more frequency extension top and bottom, better articulation, better soundstage width/depth/image and so on. But then I can only make that comparison based on the amplifier performance, not Z02 vs Alpen as complete products.

 

Additional Features

The Alpen is the successor to the E7, and comparing the two, I find improvements on aspects other than the sound. The first improvement is clearly in the amplifier section. You get better impact and much higher gain level. The Alpen comes with three gain levels, and I can go louder with my HD580 on the Alpen’s medium gain setting than I can on the E7.

The second improvement is the way it does bass boost. Instead of the three steps bass boost on the E7, you now get five steps, and the increments are much more linear than that on the E7. There is no more “I wish I can have the bass slightly more than 1 but less than 2″ because each increments add bass in good measures. What’s impressive is like an equalizer, you can reduce bass quantities. Got a headphone you love but think the bass is a little too much? Then dial down the bass on the Alpen. Like the boost level, you also get five steps here.

 

The third improvement is treble controls. Gosh why doesn’t anybody add in a treble control in their portable amps? Treble control is brilliant! You know what the number one issue people have with their set up these days? Well maybe not number one, but it’s treble levels! I have this Japanese Jazz band called Coco d’Or that makes for a nice easy listening music, except that the treble levels simply is too hot with anything but the AIAIAI TMA-1. With the Alpen, all I need to do is go to the menu, treble control, and dial down the treble (in this case, all the way down to -10!) and finally I can listen to Coco d’Or with headphones. Amazing! I think treble control is more important to us audiophiles than bass boost. Oh, and for those people who find the Senns to be veiled and want to make them more Grado-like, no need for a silver recable job because the Alpen will do it for you at no extra cost. Yes, like the bass boost level, the treble control setting also goes two ways: add or subtract. I love treble controls.

On top of everything, Fiio was also thoughtful enough to include a L/R balance control with the Alpen. I know that some people have hearing imbalance issues, and I think it’s very nice for Fiio to provide this feature.

End Words

What’s there not to like about the Alpen? None. Well, I think it would be nice if it was priced slightly lower, say $120. Don’t get me wrong, I think $150 is a fair price, and the Alpen does sounds really nice with its midrange, soundstage, and that bass impact. But I just want to make it easy for people to hit that “Buy Now” button. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too used seeing Fiio being priced below $100.

 

fiio_e17_12 fiio_e17_11 fiio_e17_10 fiio_e17_09 fiio_e17_08 fiio_e17_07 fiio_e17_06 fiio_e17_05 fiio_e17_04 fiio_e17_03 fiio_e17_02 fiio_e17_01

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001829423021 Bocheng Gu

    Hi Mike,
    Between Audinst HUD-MX1 & FiiO E17, which would you say is a better fit for SRH840? Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      How do you find the 840 to sound?

      If you want a more laid back sound, then Audinst. If you want a more forward, dynamic sound, the Fiio

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001829423021 Bocheng Gu

        I’m looking for a wider sound stage, better separation of the instruments, better treble extension, better defined bass, and all in all a less muffled sound with more refinement and details. So does that mean I should go with the Audinst? Thanks again!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You want a super do it all DAC?

          Can’t get it at this price range sorry.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001829423021 Bocheng Gu

            No, of course not. Let me rephrase my question then: if i want an overall brighter sound, which DAC in your opinion would better achieve this goal? Audinst or Fiio?

            (I actually find SRH840s forward enough already, also a tad darker for my taste)

            • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

              Both are on the darker side. If you just need a dac, the dacport lx might get you close, although it isn’t fantastic when it comes to width. It is fairly neutral. If you don’t have a mac, the yulong sounds like it might be an option.

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001829423021 Bocheng Gu

                Well, considering the availability from where I live and budget reasons I have to narrow down my options to these two (Audinst & Fiio). But thanks anyway for the suggestions Dave! :)

                • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

                  Well, the Fiio has treble control, so you could add more if you so choose.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              If you want something brighter then the Fiio. A better choice for that is the Dacport Lx

  • Dean Lu

    I have a pair of shure srh 440s and I was wondering as an amp/dac combo, would this be the best possible on to buy? I don’t want to spend any more money than $140, but if there is any better ones for less, could you tell me?

    • dalethorn

      I think you can check the review of the E07K here (just the E07K and ignore the E09 parts), and see if you think it has enough power to drive the Shure 440. I’ve been using the E07K with headphones that are medium-efficient, and I think it’s a good match.

  • Garry

    So the E17 is better than the E10, but is it “double the price” better?
    The E10 goes for $70, whereas the E17 is $140.
    Is the sound quality really worth the price difference? Is it worth spending twice the $$?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Garry,
      With audio the sound improvement is never equal to price increase. A $1000 DAC is not 10x better than a $100 DAC.
      Cheers

      • John123John

        just realized, well thought of something.
        I too am very fond of the price/performance ratio, especially since i am on a low budget.
        I wonder when the day will come when I can start contemplating on what $5000 tube amp to match with my $2000 headphones or even $40,000 speakers (WTF!)…..

        tell us mike :)

        • Dave Ulrich

          I still think there is a sanity cutoff at some point. The question is, “do you use headphones to listen to music, or do you use music to listen to headphones?” Focusing too much on technicalities, I think one tends to forget the music which, for me at least, is why I have the gear to begin with.

          • dalethorn

            It’s hard to know where the cutoff point is. I listen with the E07K and then the E17, and one sounds tighter on the low end and one sounds airier on the high end. But maybe the amp with the tighter bass becomes less airy because of the thing that makes the bass tighter. So the only control you have in these cases is to choose, unless you can swap opamps or something.

            • Dave Ulrich

              Off topic, but thanks for tip about using the piano EQ on the ipod with the DT 770 AE. I actually prefer the 770 straight out of my Ipod as opposed to LOD’ed to my cMoy or the National.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          What do you want me to tell you? ;)

    • John123John

      It may sound like a cop out but that is COMPLETELY up to you. How much is $70 dollars worth to you? for slightly better mids, soundstage, etc.
      also a thing to consider is that the E7 and E17 comparison was done side by side (i think?!) and sounds even more different when compared this way. The difference still exist but you probably wouldnt notice unless you could compare both.
      You should first note the features, obviously if you need SPDIF input, you would go for the E17. Then price, then sound (so you dont spend more than you want to, hopefully).

      Based on Mike’s review, seems like the E17 blows the E10 out of the water and I would probably get that which I did and had briefly. Also recall that the E10 did get a great review as well.

      • Dave Ulrich

        Could always give the e7k s spin. Cheaper than the e17 and suppose to be just as good

        • Garry

          Right, I forgot about the E07K. I will most likely end up getting either that or the E10. I read online that they all use the same WM8740 DAC, so only difference would be the amp and extra features?

          • Dave Ulrich

            Mike said he found the bass tighter on the e7k, and tight bass is a big deal for me.

    • Brandon Fulk

      Heads up: the E17 is going for $90 on MassDrop right now. It might be worth spending that $20 for the SQ difference.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Thanks for the update

  • Adil Jain

    Q1 – Been researching DAC AMPs for a while now – wanted to ask what your expert opinion is on my short-list -
    Fiio E17
    iBasso D7
    Cambridge Audio DacMagic
    NuForce Icon2

    I don’t mind spending a little bit more to get a solid built product that will last, has more input and output options – and is not limiting in it’s technology – for eg – 24/96 !!

    Equipment – Grado SR60 + Axiom M3Ti bookshelf speakers + Sonic Impact T-amp Super + MacBook Pro (Vox/Cog for FLAC files)

    Q2 – What sort of cable will talk to the Digital I/O port on my Macbook Pro – - co-axial (is the same as TOSLINK, right?) or SPDIF?

    AJ

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I only have experience with the E17 and the DacMagic on that list. E17 is good, but DacMagic is better.
      I believe the MacBooks use TOSLINK not coaxial.

  • Michael Shin

    Would the E17 be a good pairing with AKG’s Q701s and could it be sustained as a stand alone (no addditional amp)? If not, should I consider tacking on the E09k for a stronger amp. Or should I look for a different DAC/AMP combo with a budget of ~$250 USD. I’ve been considering other alternatives after reading your article on the E07K/E09K and researching about a few other pairings like the Schiit Magni/Modi. Which do you think I should go with for the Q701s?

    Thanks in advance and the good read.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Michael,
      All of those amps mentioned should easily power the Q701. I would go for the E07K/E09K combo personally.

      • Michael Shin

        Thank you for the quick response :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome.

  • Ian Schwarzenegger

    Currently use an E7/E9 combo, ordered an E17 which I was planning to stick into the E9. But after this review I feel like it will lower my sound quality :(

    Any chance the E09K solves the issues you were having??

    The headphones i got last night as part of my Headphone/Sound upgrade are German Maestro GMP400.

    • Dave Ulrich
      • Ian Schwarzenegger

        Thanks! Seems I shall be getting an E09k to replace my E9 when I can justify spending anymore money! Spent enough so far on Headphones and the E17 :(

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Ian,
      Sorry what issues are you talking about? Old review and I don’t remember the details.

      • Ian Schwarzenegger

        The Pairing the E17 and E9 section of the above review. probably easier for you to just quickly reread the paragraph instead of me pasting all of that

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yeah the E9K is definitely better. Sound signature is fuller on the K version, nothing like the original E9

  • STARSTERN

    had one tried A e11 plus e10 in compare to A alpen e17 ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Still a different sound.

      E11 + E10 more relaxed, boomier bass. E17 faster pace, tighter bass, more forward.
      Not saying one is better than the other but just different taste.

  • STARSTERN

    in other words e17 more transparent ?

  • Berkhan Oğulcan Akçay

    Hey Mike.
    Can you compare E17 to a ESI Dr Dac Nano? I’m trying to decide between these two.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It’s been a while and I don’t have the Nano around to compare but I think the E17 should be superior.

      • Berkhan Oğulcan Akçay

        Thanks for your reply. I’ll buy the E17 I think.

  • Niklas Hörnedal

    Hi Mike,
    Do you think E17 would fit well with the sennheiser 598, otherwise do you have any other suggestions for an amp with similar price range?

    • dalethorn

      What is your source player?

      • Niklas Hörnedal

        If I understood the question correctly, I most often use my macbook pro to play my music.

        • dalethorn

          For the price of the E17, you could add a few more dollars and get a Audioengine D3, the new v2 Dragonfly perhaps, or the HRT Microstreamer, any of which would be a big step up over the E17 in sound quality, but these would not work with portable music players like the E17 does, although the E17 would be an amp only for portable music players, not a DAC like it would with the computer.

          • Niklas Hörnedal

            Thanks for the reply!
            I have been trying to read some reviews but none of the DACs seems to stand out more than the other. whats your take on the three?

            • dalethorn

              I haven’t heard the revised Dragonfly, but given the quality of the other two, I’d pick the Microstreamer for durability. To make the Dragonfly more durable and less likely to damage a computer USB port (due to the headphone cable pulling on the little DAC), they sell a “Dragontail” cable. With the Microstreamer you use a cable anyway, but it runs much cooler than the other two.

              • Niklas Hörnedal

                I want to go with the Microstreamer but I have read that some people hear random loud pops and that there is a slight buzzing in the background when using the DAC.

                • dalethorn

                  Funny that you mention that. It seems to happen with every DAC, depending on the user’s gear and configuration. My Microstreamer never gave me a problem since my config on the PC and the Mac are set to 96 khz and 24 bits. So far what seems to make things work best is to set your config on the computer to the highest values for the DAC, but be aware that there are separate screens for those configs and they are not simple – check the documents for several DACs, not just the one you buy, so you get everything set right. Then it might help also to to turn off apps that try to take control, such as Skype. I’ve always ended up running my music players with 1000 ms buffering – if another setting helps one time, it doesn’t the next time.

                  • Niklas Hörnedal

                    Okej, thank you for the help!

  • Sergio Mejia

    Hello, what you recommend headphone amplifier

    Shure SRH1440 Professional? Could be a desktop or portable … Thanks

  • Sergio Mejia

    One more question, how do you think the this amp:

    Bravo Audio Ocean Valve Class A Tube Mini Headphone Amplifier?. Would I recommend it for 1440 Shure headphones?

    • dalethorn

      A valve amp should work better than a ss amp, since the 1440 is rather bright. The good thing about the 1440 is the brightness is not rough or peaky, so it doesn’t need smoothing, just a softer amplification.

      • Sergio Mejia

        thanks for your timely response.
        Sorry to ask again, but I find so many options that I’m a little confused. In the range of 0-500 USD, what would you recommend me amp for Shure 1440?

        • dalethorn

          HiFiMan EF5? Little Dot MK-IV?

      • Sergio Mejia

        Hi, Does Apex High Fi Audio Glacier, is appropriate (ideal) for Shure SRH1440 headphones?

  • Sergio Mejia

    Thanks Mike

  • Lifelearner1

    Thank you for the great review. I’m purchasing a pair of AD900x with the Fiio E17. I will be using them for music, and FPS gaming mainly. Would you recommend a different Amp/Dac for these headphones?

    • dalethorn

      Is the USB DAC feature of the E17 why you are buying it? What is FPS gaming?

      • Dave Ulrich

        It stands for first person shooter. Remember Lifelearner1, just because we are headphone geeks doesn’t mean we are video game geeks ;) I do like to consider myself a geek of all trades, though. I would say, since you have already ordered them, wait and hear what you think of the combo and go from there.

        • Lifelearner1

          I will remember. Lol! Thank you both for the reply. I’m really new to the geeker side of audio.

  • Miles Elzinga

    I use my Fiio E10 with my BeyerDynamic DT 880s. I find that sometiems the E10 isn’t quite enough to drive the 880s as loud as I’d like. Will the E17 be an upgrade and offer more power to push my 880s?

    • dalethorn

      The maximum power output doesn’t seem much different – maybe 50 percent which is less than 2 db. What is your source and the 880 ohms?

      • Miles Elzinga

        I’m typically just using iTunes, I have the 250 ohm version.

        • dalethorn

          The E17 should work OK, especially if you set it to high gain. But the dynamics might not be as clean as using a more powerful amp.

          • Miles Elzinga

            Well, what would you recommend then? If like to keep it about $100. I’ve always been quite a fan of Fiio products which is why I was thinking the E17.

            • dalethorn

              If you are using the E17 as both DAC and headphone amp from a computer, then the E17 is the best bet I think. But if you’re just needing the amp and not the DAC then the E12 has more power. If there are more questions then please provide more details, thanks.

  • RyAN

    Hi Mike, could you recommend portable amp for ak100mk2. i try to find DAC/AMP with optical input (connecting to mini optical out in AK100mk2) and so far i only found ibasso D12 and fiio E17. which one would be better? thx

  • meh

    quick answer, e17 vs e12?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      dac vs amp

      • meh

        compare both of them as a whole? dac/amp vs amp? sound quality wise

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          check the comments, I seriously do not have time to repeat myself over and over, sorry. we’re trying to help everyone here but don’t abuse our good will, put some effort into it yourself. thanks!

        • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

          Like L said, they are very different, so maybe you could be more specific about what you are looking for, how you will use it, so the performance of these amps can be described relative to your needs.