The Upgrade: Fiio E17 “Alpen”
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.
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.
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.
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